BALTIMORE -- Once the younger version of Carsten Sabathia proved he could consistently ring up victories at the game's highest level, he recalls being taken aside by former big league hurler Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who described a select club the left-hander seemed to have the chops to join.It was a
BALTIMORE -- Once the younger version of Carsten Sabathia proved he could consistently ring up victories at the game's highest level, he recalls being taken aside by former big league hurler Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who described a select club the left-hander seemed to have the chops to join.
It was a group called the "Black Aces," Grant said, which consisted of African-American pitchers to win 20 or more games in a single season. At the time, membership included a dozen men. After a pair of 19-win close calls, Sabathia finally joined the group in 2010 -- his second season with the Yankees.
"It was something that Mudcat talked to me about for a long time -- being in Cleveland and trying to win 20 games, and how special of a group that is," Sabathia said. "Just the names in it, it was just special to be a part of that group. I wanted to honor them."
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As Major League Baseball celebrates its second Players' Weekend, Sabathia paid tribute to those who came before him, commissioning a custom pair of gold and white "Black Aces" spikes. Sabathia did not wear them for his start against the Orioles on Friday, opting to keep them pristine for future autographs.
Grant was one of the first "Black Aces," having debuted in 1958 with the Indians and leading the American League with 21 wins for the Twins in '65.
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The other "Black Aces" are: Don Newcombe (1951, '55, '56), Sam Jones ('59), Bob Gibson ('65, '66, '68-70), Ferguson Jenkins ('67-72, '74), Earl Wilson ('67), Vida Blue ('71, '73, '75), Al Downing ('71), J.R. Richard ('76), Mike Norris ('80), Dwight Gooden ('85), Dave Stewart ('87-90), Dontrelle Willis (2005) and David Price ('12).
"It's great. It's an awesome club," Sabathia said. "[There are] 15 guys in the history of Major League Baseball, so it's just dope to be a part of it. Mudcat and the rest of those guys take it really seriously, and it's something to be proud of. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Regular playing time has helped warm Neil Walker's bat, as the veteran carried a five-game hitting streak into Saturday's doubleheader. Walker's willingness to play different positions has been key, as manager Aaron Boone continues to test his versatility.
"It's been interesting. It's been fun," Walker said. "To be asked to bounce around was something that I knew was going to happen when I came here, but I didn't think I'd find myself in the outfield in August. It doesn't matter to me; whatever it takes to help the team and to win. That's what is most important."
Walker started the second game of Saturday's doubleheader in right field, becoming the first Yankee to start double-digit games at four positions (RF, 1B, 2B, 3B) since Randy Velarde in 1995 (2B, 3B, SS, LF). That experiment could continue, as Boone is mindful of being gentle with Giancarlo Stanton's tight left hamstring.
"Walker's been huge for us," Boone said. "Obviously, having a tough start to the season where he wasn't raking like he normally [has], what he's been able to do for us over the last couple of months -- especially with guys down -- and the versatility that he's shown ... he's [been] really huge for us."
This date in Yankees history
Aug. 25, 2011: The Yankees became the first team ever to hit three grand slams in a game, with Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson each doing so in a 22-9 victory over the Athletics at Yankee Stadium. Jorge Posada makes his first career appearance at second base, recording the game's final out on a groundout.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.