CC Sabathia gave the Yankees everything, and then he gave some more
Years from now, assuming that people are still making the mistake of letting me corner them at a party and yell at them about CC Sabathia, the thing I'll keep coming back to was just how big he was. This is true in the literal sense, of course: At 6-foot-6 and around 300 pounds, he's one of the largest dudes to ever take a Major League mound. But it also felt true, even from the upper deck, even from 1,000 miles away through a spotty television that just barely survived its road trip from the Tri-State to Texas.
When he picked up a big out, he would throw his fists toward the ground and let out this immense roar, and in that moment you'd swear his shoulders were broad enough to put a team and a city -- even a city as big and varied and complicated as New York -- on his back.
He arrived in New York in 2009 on the wings of a seven-year, $161 million contract, a record for a pitcher at the time. Yankees fans have a way of treating players like that as though they're a class apart: There are the homegrown guys, the True Yankees™, and then there are the hired guns.
And yet, in a locker room that still featured Jeter and Posada and Pettitte, Sabathia strode in and felt like the big brother -- the guy that every corner of the clubhouse respected, the guy you went to if you had a problem, the guy who put everyone at ease by sheer force of his presence. Almost immediately, it became CC's team, and if you messed with it, you'd have to answer to him.
Even if he looked like Luke Skywalker trying to stay warm on Hoth:
Sabathia always just felt larger than life -- he was responsible for leading a team full of dozens of disparate personalities from disparate backgrounds and disparate cultures, for dealing with the biggest media market in the country and, oh yeah, for being an ace on top of it. He gave a part of himself to everybody, and there was seemingly no limit to the weight he could bear.
Which is why his last appearance in the Bronx hurt so much. Aaron Boone called on him to get out of a jam in ALCS Game 4, to bail the Yankees out as he had so many times before, and his body finally gave way. He was taken out after four batters with what we'd later discover was an injury to his throwing shoulder. As he left the mound for the final time in his really-should-be-Hall-of-Fame career, you could see how much it killed him.
If it's all the same to you, though, I reject that image as the last we see of CC Sabathia. I won't remember how it ended: I'll remember the fact that he happily stuck himself in the bullpen for his final postseason; I'll remember that his team asked him to face down 22-year-old Yordan Alvarez -- he of the several home runs hit into low orbit -- and got the presumptive AL Rookie of the Year to hit a grounder to first; I'll remember that, outcome aside, he pitched his ass off, because of course he did.
Which I guess is just the least I can do to say thanks. Thanks for adopting this baseball team I love and pouring everything you had into it. Thanks for giving me something to be so completely, resolutely proud of. And most important, thanks for making it all so damn fun. That's for you.