By People Staff
Updated December 25, 1989 12:00 PM

When the season opened, the California Angels knew they had a pitching phenom—left-hander Jim Abbott, 21. An ail-American at Michigan with a 90-mph-plus fastball, Abbott was born without a right hand. The rookie had a 12-12 record this season but was way above .500 in the respect department. Says Angels manager Doug Rader: “He may be the most remarkable individual I’ve ever known in baseball.”

It was the little space probe that could. It boldly went where man won’t be able to go for a long time, it took photographs, and then it moved on. Launched in 1977, the 1,800-pound Voyager 2 is about the size of a Volkswagen, but that hasn’t stopped it from traveling 4.5 billion miles and sending back awe-inspiring photographs of Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s rings and the cloud-shrouded surface of Uranus. Then it swung past Neptune and headed off into the void.

Of course, there were the inevitable rumors that this particular sign-off was not voluntary. After 13 years Jane Pauley, 39, stepped down as Bryant Gumbel’s co-anchor on NBC’s Today show. And Deborah Norville, 31, stepped in as America’s wake-up call. Pauley denied she was being pushed out and insisted the move was her idea. “I knew I needed life beyond Today,” she said. For the millions of viewers who see Jane as America’s sweetheart, her second act cannot begin too soon.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote Robert Frost. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall, ugly and unloved, had cut through Berlin, dividing families, truncating historic streets and symbolizing the cold war. An estimated 75 people had died trying to cross it. At midnight on Nov. 9, East Germans were finally free to cross the hated barrier. Exultantly they danced upon the edifice and chipped away at it with hammers. Then they surged through to window-shop in West Berlin.

For 62 years Hirohito had sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne. Because of Japan’s defeat in World War II, he suffered a demotion from a living god to merely mortal Emperor. Then, last year, Hirohito died and, with him, his era, called Showa, which means “enlightened peace.” His son, Crown Prince Akihito, 55, became the nation’s 125th Emperor on Jan. 7. The shy but stubborn prince ushered in Heisei, meaning “achieving peace.”

French filmmaker Jean-Jacques (Quest for Fire) Annaud decided to bear all in 1989. The Bear was a fearsome hit in Europe and opened here to enthusiastic reviews in October. The film made a star of Bart, the 9’2″, 1,800-lb. grizzly who plays the lead. Bart had already had a lumber-on in The Clan of the Cave Bear, and The Sear earned him a role in Jack London’s White Fang. Now, though, the star of this year’s sleeper hit is going into hibernation.

He was Lew Alcindor when he played for Manhattan’s Power Memorial High. Then, after a stellar college career at UCLA, he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, in 20 NBA seasons, played the game of basketball as it has never been played. He won six NBA championship rings and set 30 individual records. Finally, after one last shot in the NBA finals, Kareem took his bald spot, his goggles and his skyhook and left the game to lesser men.

The French, naturellement, were aghast. Their government had commissioned someone—no, some foreigner—to meddle with the Louvre. The plan was for 72-year-old American architect I.M. Pei to design a structure for the Paris museum’s entrance. His $325 million pyramid took four years to build and opened in March. The French are still grumbling. But then, they also hated the Eiffel Tower when it opened 100 years ago.

Tennis bid adieu to its Cinderella in Sneakers, Chris Evert, top, and welcomed its newest superstar, California’s Michael Chang. At 17, Chang became the youngest man ever to win the French Open. Evert quit at 34 to pursue a new life as a full-time wife and mother. Her last serious set was played at the U.S. Open, where she lost in the quarterfinals. A game that increasingly has fallen under the sway of graceless boors has lost one of its gentlefolk.

Sultry Laura San Giacomo contributed the S-word to sex, lies and videotape, and unlike the movie’s title, it was Sex with a capital S. Underlined. With exclamation marks!! In the film that won new director Steven Soderbergh the best-at-Cannes award, San Giacomo, 27, played Cynthia—sexual fire to sister Andie MacDowell’s ice—a woman to whom all men (including her brother-in-law) are sex objects. As entrances go, it was entrancing.

When episode No. 176, Alex Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, aired on May 14, it was the end for NBC’s Family Ties, after seven successful years. The series made a star out of Michael J. Fox, and it was Reagan’s favorite show. Ties’s Keaton family lived through teen suicide, premarital sex, Alzheimer’s and divorce. Along the way, they won five Emmys. “It’s hard to think it’s ending,” said Tina Yothers, who was 9 when the show started, “but it’ll never leave my heart.”

Remember when parents used to get upset by the DA? Or the Beatlemaniacs’ mop-top haircuts? Or basic, generic long hair? In 1989 they had something new to complain about—haircuts with a message. There were names, Batman logos, even the Ghostbusters look. It was a McLuhanesque concept: The message was the medium trim.

One of the great traumas of Amy Tan’s life was when she learned her Chinese-born mother had left three daughters behind, fleeing her homeland in 1949. Amy fictionalized the loss and worked it into one of the stories in The Joy Luck Club, her first published book and one of the year’s unexpected best-sellers. Tan, 37, says she wrote the stories for her mother, as an attempt to explain to her what it means to be Chinese-American.

There he goes, again. This star of radio, screen and the international stage took a curtain call on Jan. 20 after an eight-year run in Washington. He entered from stage far right in 1980, soon to become the oldest actor ever to play his part. After he turned the role over to his understudy, he took his show on the road, making $2 million for a nine-day tour of Japan. Who is he? Hint: Despite his age, he is nor one of the Rolling Stones.

Syndicated in 800 newspapers, Bloom County was the hippest comic strip since the glory days of Doonesbury. Then, after eight years, Bloom’s creator, Berke Breathed, packed it in to start Outland, a Sundays-only strip. Opus will be back in Outland, but on Aug. 6, Bill the Cat & Co. went away to comic never-never land.

He is not the conventional TV actor, and when he made his series debut in ABC’s Life Goes On, Chris Burke, the son of a retired New York City cop, caused a considerable stir. Burke, 24, plays Corky Thacher, an 18-year-old with Down syndrome. Burke himself has Down syndrome. “Burke will steal the nation’s heart,” said the Washington Post. And so he did.