- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The pitcher doesn't stop. A man stares down at him, opens his mouth, waits, squirms, as if unsure how to address the mystery below.
Sabathia, born in California, famously allowed that he'd love to pitch there. Everyone knew he would have taken less money to get closer to home. But then came his dominating stint with the Brewers down the stretch in 2008: Traded to Milwaukee in midseason, Sabathia ignored the pleas of his agent and risked his looming financial bonanza as a free agent by starting three games on three days' rest, throwing seven complete games, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and carrying Milwaukee into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.
"The most unselfish performance by any player," says Brewers G.M. Doug Melvin. "To pitch like he did for the betterment of the ball club? To put that ahead of free agency? You just don't see that much anymore."
It was, indeed, such a display of baseball cojones that the Yankees felt they had no choice. Sabathia was 28 and had won 117 games, the most for any active pitcher his age: Cashman had to have him. He offered seven years at $161 million—two years and about $60 million more than the Brewers and the Angels. It was the sport's new standard for an offer you can't refuse.
Still, the Yankees faithful are a romantic bunch. They like to think it takes unique toughness to win in New York, and that being a true Yankee has nothing to do with money. This is odd for the richest team in sports, but the paradox abides: Yankees fans live by the wallet yet despise mercenaries. Free-agent pitching busts such as Ed Whitson, Kenny Rogers, Hideki Irabu and Carl Pavano serve as foils in Yankees lore—derided examples of how not to be.
The man in the stands has it at last. He leans over the railing and yells, "Who wants to be on the WEST Coast?"
ALL HIS LIFE HE'S BEEN PREPARING FOR NEW YORK. People don't understand that about CC Sabathia; he didn't really know it about himself. But Hobbs always told him that he wouldn't be truly great until he settled into being a father and a pro, until his circumstances matched his preternatural maturity. And in 2008 Hobbs surveyed the whole package—the wife (Amber, from high school) and two kids, a third on the way, the decade of pro experience, the coming huge contract and its attendant pressures—and told CC, "I've been waiting for this time for you."
Still, during his dazzling run with the Brewers, Sabathia didn't realize that he was, in fact, competing himself into a corner. He had never played for the contract. Milwaukee felt as comfy as a favorite chair, but as the free-agent derby unwound, the Angels were the club Cashman feared most. In December 2008 the Angels offered Sabathia a five-year deal for $20 million per, but their ham-handed 24-hour deadline put him off. And something else kept nagging at him.
Now that the 2008 season had proved that CC Sabathia played to win, he couldn't get around the idea that he had no choice. This, he insists, is the thought that kept rattling in his head: If I want to win more than I want to be home, how can I not go to New York?
"I couldn't answer that question," he says. "[The Yankees] got the best players, and they're committed; they always get what they need. If you really want to win, why wouldn't you come here? And once I couldn't answer that...."