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CC proud to be part of exclusive 'Black Aces'

MLB.com @benweinrib

CC Sabathia grew up in Vallejo, Calif., with a sense of baseball history. In his neighborhood, baseball was the sport of choice, and if you didn't play, you weren't going to get along with the rest of the group.

Like many, the Yankees' left-hander grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. and was lucky enough to see him when the Mariners came through Oakland. But his family made sure that he also had a sense of who came before him.

CC Sabathia grew up in Vallejo, Calif., with a sense of baseball history. In his neighborhood, baseball was the sport of choice, and if you didn't play, you weren't going to get along with the rest of the group.

Like many, the Yankees' left-hander grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. and was lucky enough to see him when the Mariners came through Oakland. But his family made sure that he also had a sense of who came before him.

Though his career is not nearly over, Sabathia has already placed himself in baseball's history books as an African-American pitcher with a 20-win season. And thanks to a keen interest in the game's legends, his place in history is all the more meaningful.

"My grandfather was a huge baseball fan, and when he got to talking about baseball and Jackie Robinson, I really opened my ears," Sabathia said. "That's who he rooted for. He told me stories about what he went through and different things like that. Obviously, he lived in those times. It's just an awesome thing that he passed that down to me."

Since Robinson broke the Color Barrier in 1947, 211 pitchers have won at least 20 games in a season, and just 15 of them are African-American. That elite company earned the nickname "The Black Aces," and Sabathia joined the group in 2010, when he went 21-7 for the Yankees.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who debuted in 1958 with the Indians, was among the first Black Aces after leading the league with 21 wins for the Twins in 1965. The others include Don Newcombe ('51, '55, '56), Sam Jones ('59), Bob Gibson ('65, '66, '68-70), Ferguson Jenkins ('67-72, '74), Earl Wilson ('67), Vida Blue (1971, '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).

Sabathia knew Grant earlier when the left-hander was with the Indians, and he recalls Grant consistently telling him that he needed to join the club. After winning 19 games twice in 2007 and '09, Sabathia was finally able to break through with the Yankees in his 10th season.

"When I got my 20th win, he called me, and then after the season I got a chance to sit down with him and just kind of reflect on everything," Sabathia said. "Just be appreciative that I was able to be a part of that club. And now that we're sitting here talking about it, it's pretty dope, it's pretty cool to be a Black Ace. That's something that nobody can ever take away from me. That's something that I earned in this game. It means that much more because I had such a close relationship with Mudcat."

Ben Weinrib is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter at @benweinrib.

New York Yankees, CC Sabathia