Welcome to CC Sabathia Week. We are using this week – the last home stand of the 2019 season –to honor CC Sabathia. Each day, we have a post about everyone’s favorite big man and his career. Bobby wrote his HOF case Monday and Steven wrote about the 2012 ALDS yesterday. Today, we get into Sabathia’s impact off the field.
Tonight is almost certainly CC Sabathia’s final regular season appearance at Yankee Stadium. I’d love to see him go out with a flourish, but regardless of what happens, performance isn’t everything when it comes to the veteran lefty. He’s had a fantastic pitching career, no doubt, but his influence within the Yankees’ clubhouse and the organization as a whole is immeasurable.
Over the years, Sabathia has become the Yankees’ heart and soul. He quickly became a team leader when he came aboard for the 2009 season, and over time, we’ve seen the effects of his presence. How did it all come about?
It was all part of the plan
Obviously, the Yankees wanted Sabathia to be the staff ace in 2009 and beyond. The team had just missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993, needed pitching, and Sabathia was a free agent. In other words, the stars were aligned. Yet, more than just CC’s ability on the mound interested the Yankees.
The Yankees’ clubhouse didn’t have a great reputation in the mid-to-late aughts. Why that was the case isn’t necessarily clear, though those teams were pretty business-like from my recollection. Winning was the only thing that mattered. From afar, that almost certainly made those Yankees clubs look a bit up tight.
Moreover, per Mission 27: A New Boss, a New Ballpark, and One Last Ring for the Yankees’ Core Four, by Mark Feinsand and Bryan Hoch, there was a rift between the dynasty-years Yankees and the others.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, which meant that Brian Cashman had no choice but to patch things up in the clubhouse. Obviously, getting CC to join the team would go a long way to returning to the postseason, but that wasn’t everything that went into the team’s pursuit:
“Culture was an issue in that clubhouse,” Cashman said. “We were broken, and it needed to be addressed.”
“CC was interested and open to coming here, but there were also concerns because he knew we had a broken clubhouse,” Cashman said. “He said that was [the perception] around the whole league. So I talked to him about, ‘That’s one of the reasons we’re talking to you — not just because of who you are as a player, but someone who brings people together.'”
Just as the Yankees hoped, Sabathia helped change the Yankees’ clubhouse dynamic for the better. Winning a World Series in year one certainly went a long way, but there have been plenty of other anecdotes about Sabathia’s impact. Let’s highlight a few of those.
Rookie or veteran, it’s no matter
For decades, the Yankees were one of the oldest teams in baseball. Sabathia played for veteran-laden Yankees clubs from 2009 through 2016. But now, the core is young. Baseball, like other sports, has a history of rookie hazing and veterans acting superior to young players. But thanks to guys like Sabathia, the Yankees didn’t fall into that trap during its recent youth movement.
Last year, The Athletic’s Marc Carig wrote about the close-knit Yankees clubhouse even though it’s filled with a bunch of newcomers. To no one’s surprise, Sabathia has been instrumental in welcoming everyone.
[Sabathia’s] first clubhouse had a comfortable couch in the middle of the room next to a large television. One day, he made the mistake of sitting on it, a grave offense that prompted a tongue-lashing from a veteran. It would be a few years before he could sit there without being hassled. He stifled his outsized personality, but resolved that if he were ever in position someday to set the culture, he would do things differently.
Years later, Sabathia has made good on his word.
This isn’t a new thing with Sabathia, either. For years, he’s been treating rookies the way he wanted to be treated back in 2001. Dellin Betances brought that up at Sabathia’s PitCCh In Foundation’s LegaCCy Gala the other day:
“I remember in 2011, my debut — I didn’t pitch that well and he was the first person to text me, just keep your head up,” added Yanks pitcher Dellin Betances. “He always gave good advice. He’s like a big brother. His competitiveness, the way he takes the ball every five days. Early in his career and even now, he’s an ultimate competitor. He’s a winner.”
That’s just one example. Here’s one more from last week. In relief of Sabathia in Detroit, Domingo Germán earned his 18th win of the season. It was about as meaningless of a September game as you can imagine, and yet…
Domingo Germán told me this win (18) was particularly special for him because CC talked to him in the bullpen about how he got first career win in Detroit in 2001, and really wanted the team to get a win today. “This one was for CC. He gave me a lead,… https://t.co/ZRF6bOtQJS— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) September 13, 2019
R2C2 has given us insight into CC’s relationships
Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco’s podcast has been a great way for fans to get a snippet of what the lefty’s relationships are like with his teammates.
In particular, a recent episode with ex-Yankees prospect Justus Sheffield really left me impressed with Sabathia. Sheffield threw just 2 2/3 innings with the Yankees before he was traded, and yet, he and Sabathia’s relationship go back much further than his September call up. Even as a prospect in the minors and major league spring training in 2018, CC served as a mentor to Sheffield. As if there weren’t enough young guys in the major league clubhouse to provide guidance to, Sabathia also made sure to help out minor leaguers.
No matter who joins, it’s clear that Sabathia’s dynamic with the other guys is excellent. The topics range from other sports, movies and TV, the state of baseball, or the Yankees’ performance. Whether it’s new guys like Mike Tauchman or Cameron Maybin, young guys from different backgrounds like Gleyber Torres or Luis Severino, or longtime teammates like Brett Gardner, Sabathia has a bond with everyone.
Backing his teammates
There’s no way this post could be written without this:
Who could forget that incident? Only topped off by this:
You don’t mess with any of CC’s teammates. And they love him for it:
“That’s the type of guy you want to go to battle with,” Aaron Judge said.
“We love C, he’s our guy,” Romine said. “He’s one of our leaders. He was throwing a good game. He has a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates.”
It’s not just standing up for teammates in the heat of the battle, either. Sabathia’s support comes in many varieties. If you’ve ever watched any of the Yankees’ starters pre-game warmups, you may have noticed the rest of the rotation watching along. You guessed it: Sabathia helped create this tradition.
He and the rest of the Yankees’ rotation have built a nice support system for each other. I would need to double check, but I believe Sabathia and Ruocco discussed this with James Paxton and JA Happ.
I can’t help but feel like I’m shortchanging how much Sabathia has meant for the Yankees’ clubhouse. He walked into spring training in 2009 and instantly became one of the team’s leaders. And as his seniority with the Yankees grew, he helped mold the clubhouse into a welcoming place for all.
Even though he’s retiring, the Yankees will feel Sabathia’s influence for years to come. His example has rubbed off on the Baby Bombers and the organization as a whole. Who knows how long it would have taken the Yankees to resolve their clubhouse woes had Sabathia decided to go elsewhere in the winter of 2008.
Not only does CC improve clubhouse chemistry, but in turn, he also makes things much more fun for fans. Winning has always made the Yankees great to root for, well before Sabathia was here, but I don’t think it’s ever been this fun to watch the Yankees. CC’s impact is a big reason for that.
The Yankees still expect to win everyday, just like they always have, but they also have fun doing it. Would we have seen things like the walk-off pies, Toe-night show, Thumbs Down, or Didi Gregorius’s postgame tweets without Sabathia? I’m not so sure. Older veterans possibly would have shut that stuff down in the past. Sabathia’s done so much performance-wise to help the Yankees win over the last decade, but I think I may be even more thankful for him helping bring the organization to the 21st century.