CC 'a person worth rooting for'

Sabathia addresses alcoholism in The Players' Tribune

March 7th, 2016
"I'm really looking forward to coming into this season with a new frame of mind," Sabathia wrote. (Getty Images)

It's not something I'm proud of. It's far from a favorite among the multitude of baseball pieces I've written over the years. And it probably wasn't even that well-written. But one time, in the heat of the moment, I ripped CC Sabathia.
I can only defend it by saying my righteous anger at the time wasn't entirely misplaced. Sabathia had made some public comments about the Indians trading him, comments that basically amounted to, "Hey, look, I was willing to spend my entire career in Cleveland, but they decided to trade me."
The reality, of course, is that the Indians very much wanted to extend Sabathia but were unlikely to afford what turned out to be a $186 million contract. And they only traded him midseason in 2008 because they were out of contention, and Sabathia's poor early-season performance was a big reason why they were out of contention.
Why am I bringing this up? Accountability.
I had covered Sabathia since we were both very young men. If I knew him to be some pampered, entitled, out-of-touch professional athlete, I wouldn't have been the least bit disappointed or inspired by his misleading public comments.
But that simply wasn't the CC I knew.
The CC I knew always stood at his locker on those rare days when he was rocked and patiently explained when, where and how he stunk, never more meaningfully than after the Tribe blew a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Red Sox in 2007. ("I take all the blame for it," he had said, referring to his series-changing Game 5 loss.)
The CC I knew took exceptionally good care of the batboys and the clubbies who worked endless hours in the clubhouse for low pay. The CC I knew was as respectful, considerate and, yes, accountable as you could hope for a superstar talent to be, and that's why I took him to task on my meager and not-especially-well-read blog.
Well, one silly and, thanks to me, overblown public statement about a trade aside, the CC I knew is very much the real CC. This is obvious and evident in the way he has gracefully handled a very public and very difficult battle with alcoholism, most recently with a piece published on Monday in The Players' Tribune. And the hope here is that the inordinate steps CC has taken to give that battle his very best have brought closure to what undoubtedly had to be an unusual offseason for him.
This all started with CC stepping into manager Joe Girardi's office on the eve of the Yankees' AL Wild Card Game against the Astros and telling him he couldn't participate in the postseason because his alcohol problem needed to addressed -- immediately. From there, Sabathia made a 29-day stay in rehab, appeared on "The Today Show" and, just this week, wrote the piece in The Players' Tribune.
Why go to such lengths to publicly discuss the details about what, ultimately, is a private issue? Because CC's ultimate accountability is to his family -- his wife, Amber, and his four children. And if going public means he catches the attention of every waiter, every bartender, every cashier and every fan he comes across, he'll know he has allies in this fight, people who will wake him and shake him if he slips.
And yes, there's also the possibility that CC inspires others who are silently struggling. Many of us either inside or around the baseball industry were absolutely floored by Sabathia's admission last fall. We had no idea the depths or extent of his plight and how much it had him worried about his future and his ability to be a proper father and husband. It was yet another reminder that although we can carefully scrutinize everything that happens inside the lines, there's only so much we know about what the athletes we watch are going through outside them.
Again, hopefully the page is now turned for Sabathia. Hopefully, with a clear head and a healthy body, he is ready to remind us of what once made him one of the undisputed best pitchers in the sport.
"Now that I'm on the other side of things," he wrote, "I feel at peace. I feel good about myself. I feel good about my body. And I'm really looking forward to coming into this season with a new frame of mind."
I'm rooting for Sabathia because, no matter how I felt about him in one very specific and very brief instance, he has consistently proven himself to be a person worth rooting for. Sabathia has always held himself accountable when he misses a spot, when he picks the wrong pitch, when he loses a battle on the playing field.
I'm happy for CC and his family that he's applying that accountability to a far more important battle off of it.