New York Yankees

Given CC Sabathia’s recent admission to rehab, what can be said of his time in New York? Look no further than a comparison to David Wells.

By Bryan Pol

When looking at CC Sabathia and David Wells side-by-side, one obvious facet of their being surfaces to mind.


“Boomer” Wells, who spent seemingly every spring training battling some variety of gout, was prone to partying, drinking, and allegedly even throwing perfect games hung over.

Likewise, Sabathia, masterful in pinstripes for their 2009 World Series run, has seen his weight balloon, fluctuate, plummet, and provide hindrance to both his knees and velocity.

Moreover, Sabathia’s contract is a catastrophic hang-up: with one year and $25 million remaining on his current deal, the New York Yankees will have paid CC $186 million for his services or roughly $1.67 million per victory, including the postseason.

In all, Sabathia is 97-56 in pinstripes over 198 starts in seven seasons, with a 3.73 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, pitching to mixed effects in the postseason.

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At 7-2 in October with New York over thirteen starts and one relief appearance, CC managed a 4.57 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP.  Aside from a tremendous ALDS against Baltimore in 2012 (he was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP over 17 2/3 innings), Sabathia had been otherwise dreadful since willing the Yankees to a championship (he won the ALCS MVP in pitching brilliantly against the Angels in ’09).

In six postseason starts in 2010, 2011, and the 2012 ALCS, CC averaged roughly 4 2/3 innings an appearance (in half those starts, he did not make it out of the third), managing a 7.33 ERA and a 2.27 WHIP.  Furthermore, CC has been flat, if not ghastly, in his last three seasons, yielding a full-season ERA no lower than 4.73, posting a career-worst 5.28 mark in 2014.

For the most part, CC has not been ace material since 2012, his last season as an All-Star. Coincidentally, the Yankees, until this season, had not appeared in the playoffs, although their appearance this year has naught to do with Sabathia, who was ousted from the rotation in August.

No degree in actuarial science is necessary in drawing the conclusion that such figures are not befitting of an ace averaging $25 million a year.

For all intents and purposes, CC is a stand-up individual, a positive clubhouse influence, and even, at least for a time, a leader.  But twice during the length of the contract he signed in 2008 were the Yankees at the mercy of Sabathia, who opted out of his deal in search of more money per year, unmerited moves (see again his uneven playoff resume) that seemed extracted from teammate Alex Rodriguez’s playbook.

Contrarily, Wells was no saint in the Yankee clubhouse, and was even considered borderline seditious during his time with manager Joe Torre as his skipper.

In 123 starts in pinstripes over four years, however, Wells had numbers equivalent to Sabathia’s: 68-28 with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.  In October with New York, Wells equaled CC at 7-2 in win-loss record over ten postseason starts, mustering a 2.96 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP.  In seven of his ten starts, Wells lasted more than seven innings (eight innings twice), hurled six quality starts, and allowed one run in three starts, while yielding two in one start and none in another.

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In 1998, Wells was particularly masterful, a la CC in 2009.  In addition to his perfect game in the regular season against the Twins, which set the tone for New York’s historic season (their combined 125 wins in the regular season and playoffs are the most all-time), Wells went 18-4 with a 3.49 ERA (the fifth-lowest in the AL), finishing third in the Cy Young voting. Wells again set the tone in the ALCS, winning Game 1 against the Cleveland Indians, tossing 8 1/3 innings, allowing only two runs.  Pitching in a critical Game 5 against the Indians with the series tied 2-2, Wells delivered on another stellar outing, allowing three runs over seven innings, striking out eleven en route to a Yankee victory.  New York would win the series in six games, with Wells being awarded the ALCS MVP for his efforts.  The Yankees capped off the year with a World Series title, their second in three years, thanks to Wells coming up big as their undisputed, if not enigmatic, ace.

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Undoubtedly, Wells did not perform without agony and strife.  A massive Babe Ruth fanatic, Wells infamously requested to wear Ruth’s retired number 3; he was subsequently denied.  Later in that 1997 campaign, his first year with New York, Wells purchased a Ruth-worn ball cap for $35,000, having the audacity to don the relic in a game the Yankees lost 12-8 to Cleveland despite giving Wells a 3-0 lead.  Joe Torre often spoke of Wells’s reckless, petulant behavior, but even the Yankee skipper would have to agree that Wells was a flat-out gamer.  

Seldom did CC ever earn that distinction in pinstripes.  Like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia has manifested into a relative disappointment who failed to live up to the breadth of his contract, a mark of a bygone era of overspending general manager Brian Cashman wishes to leave behind in favor of a youth movement, featuring Greg Bird and Aaron Judge, that cannot flourish with Teixeira and right fielder Carlos Beltran, inked to a questionable three-year deal that lasts into the 2016 season, standing in their way.

While many well wishes may be sent in light of CC’s departure from the Yankees, which could serve as a relative rally cry for his team, who squares off on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium against the Houston Astros in a one-game, wild card elimination matchup, Sabathia’s tenure in New York has been less than satisfying.

On the other hand, Well’s time in New York, albeit brief and tumultous, can be remembered a great deal more fondly, with two World Series appearances and a landmark season in 1998 to show for it.

Alas, Sabathia’s rocky 2015 campaign ends on a note of melancholy.  May baseball be the last thing on his mind as he wills himself back to health and happiness as he battles the horrors of alcoholism, an addiction that cannot deprive him of his status as a one-time champion ace for the New York Yankees.

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I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.