It’s been a difficult season for CC Sabathia, which he announced last winter would be his final one. He’s gone to the IL three separate times for his knee—no specific injury per se, just swelling and pain that made it impossible to pitch and necessitated time off. The Yankees knew that coming into the year, and were fine with this season being at least partially a victory lap for Sabathia. But Sabathia admitted that if this team weren’t title contenders, he would’ve called it quits months ago and gone for the total knee replacement that he needs. He’ll get that new knee in November, but he’s done with baseball—the surgery’s about hopefully being pain-free for the rest of his life.
It’s unclear what role Sabathia, 39, will play in the playoffs. The Yankees could be eliminated before he gets into a game. Or, if he does, it might come on the road. Or, if it does come at home, with the Yankees’ postseason plan to “piggyback” starters—use two of them in a game, basically—he might come on in relief. Basically there are no guarantees. So Sabathia’s last regular-season home start Wednesday night was treated like a chance to say goodbye. Everyone—he, his teammates, family, and fans—made the most of it.
“Way to go, I love you,” Aaron Boone said when he took the ball from Sabathia, and make sure you watch the video at least to the point where the camera cuts to his kids, his wife Amber, and his mom Margie, the latter two wiping away tears and blowing him a kiss.
Sabathia tried to downplay the whole thing:
“It was fun to be able to out there, especially with a chance to be able to clinch. All I was really thinking about was trying to make good pitches. When the team is in the position it’s in, it kind of takes the focus off you, so it was a lot of fun.”
If he wasn’t thinking about it, the fans were. Sabathia was something rare in the Bronx—a star pitcher who signed as a free agent and lived up to the billing. He was no Kevin Brown, no Randy Johnson, no Carl Pavano, no Sonny Gray. He thrived in the Bronx: 11 seasons, three all-star appearances, a championship—he’s one of just two players remaining from New York’s last title—and, amazingly even with his age-related downturn, underlying numbers that were nearly every bit as as good as those he put up for Cleveland to first become a star. He proved everything the Yankees expected when they signed him, which was, in a way, more than they could have hoped for.
Sabathia is more than his numbers. He is an inspiration to every aging fireballer forced to either adapt his arsenal, or wilt. An inspiration to the dwindling number of African-American MLB players; one of baseball’s very few Black Aces. An inspiration to, hopefully, everyone, as he was unusually open and honest about his struggles with alcohol addiction.
Ah, but he is his numbers too. A Cy Young award and six all-star games. Just the 17th pitcher in the history of baseball to reach 3,000 strikeouts, and the 48th to reach 250 wins. He’s only the 14th pitcher to hit both those marks, and of the previous 13, every one not named Roger Clemens is already in Cooperstown. Sabathia should and probably will join them.
But he’s got one more October to get through first.