As a younger baseball fan who roots against the Yankees, it took me a long time to truly appreciate the greatness of CC Sabathia. The 6x All-Star was undoubtedly one of the premiere pitchers of his era, as the future Hall of Fame ace played for 19 seasons and threw for a 3.74 lifetime ERA over 3577.1 IP, with a 3093 strikeouts, posting a 251-160 record with a 63 WAR by BBRef measurements. During his career, he went from a flamethrower to a crafty lefty who barely topped 90 on the gun, forcing himself to learn how to pitch. He went from a recovering addict to celebrated human being. He spent the last 11 years of that in baseball’s harshest and most demanding market bringing a World Championship to the Bronx in 2009. The year before that, however, is what solidified CC’s greatness and started building a legacy that will live forever.
CC Sabathia came up with the Indians and made an immediate impact over his first 7 and a half seasons. He was the American League Cy Young award winner in 2007 when he posted a 3.21 ERA (but was arguably better judging by his 3.14 FIP) with a 19-7 record and 209 Ks. His 2008, though, started lost. Entering his walk year, he was dealt at the trade deadline having a 6-8 record with a subpar 3.83 ERA over 18 games. The Indians were out of contention and didn’t have a chance to retain him. The Milwaukee Brewers were on their way to a 90 win season, with a lineup stacked with sluggers such as Prince Fielder, but their pitching staff was modestly led by stalwart Ben Sheets. Feeling like they were a piece away from the wildcard, the Brewers made a franchise altering decision and traded for the southpaw Sabathia. They sent top prospect Matt LaPorta, pitchers Rob Bryson and Zack Jackson, as well as a player to be named later to Cleveland. The player to be named later ended up being future Indians icon Michael Brantley. The rest history.
CC Sabathia was the talk of the baseball world for the rest of the season. It cannot be overstated just how great CC truly was for the Crew, as he went 11-2 in 17 games, with a 1.65 ERA, 255 ERA+, a WHIP barely over 1 and 128 Ks. Down the stretch when Milwaukee needed innings, Sabathia pitched 130.2 that year for Milwaukee, an average of nearly 8 innings per outing. When most pitchers are trying to protect their stock heading into free agency, CC Sabathia wasn’t looking ahead to the massive payday that was coming his way, he instead told Ned Yost “use me as much as you need me.” CC was a man of his word, with the only intentions of his words being to win because CC Sabathia was the ultimate competitor on the field. He averaged 8 innings per start, pitched on short rest multiple times down the stretch and was dominant each time out. While he struck out 128, he gave up only 25 total free passes. The Brewers won 15 of his 17 starts. CC pitched game 162 to clinch playoff birth…on 3 days rest, with a complete game. It was his 10th complete game of the season, 7th with the Brewers and the latter number led the National League. He had 3 shutouts of those 7, 5 of those 10. Not only was his final start to clinch the playoffs on short rest, but all of his final 3 starts were on short rest.
This historic run tells you everything you need to know and that goes beyond the fact that CC was a Hall of Fame gamer. The team went before CC. The team went before CC’s health. The team went before the 7 year, $161M contract he got that offseason with the New York Yankees. CC Sabathia knew he wasn’t playing for Milwaukee in 2009, yet he still went out there and gave the team more than 39 other players. Per Fangraphs WAR measurements, he was a 7.4 win player in 2008, a full win higher than his Cy Young season in 2007. That postseason, he only played in 1 game and it was a forgettable one against eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. But, the Brewers don’t get to that point without CC Sabathia. CC Sabathia is the greatest trade deadline pick-up in baseball history, and honestly, it isn’t even close.
In a time where most players would understandably only think of their future, CC’s one goal was to win wherever he was at, even if he knew it was a transitional time. CC Sabathia was renown for being one of the best teammates in the league, and this is just one of many examples where he put his future on the backburner for the good of the team; a team that he put on his back and carried to the playoffs for the first time in since 1982.
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