CC Sabathia
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After 19 years in the majors, 11 of which will have been spent with the New York Yankees, CC Sabathia‘s final season deserves some attention.

Free agents are like hired guns.

Think about it. They do well with a team for a number of years, hit the market, and then (usually) sign the best contract available. These offers come from teams whose needs can be filled by them.

In the case of the New York Yankees, CC Sabathia was just that. He came to New York on a long-term deal ahead of the 2009 season. It was just assumed he would show up, post great numbers, and hopefully win a World Series or two along the way.

Except, something different happened. Sabathia wasn’t like most free agents. He wasn’t just in it for the money. He truly embraced being a Yankee. Despite his free agent status, it was clear he wanted to be here.

Fast forward to today, and CC Sabathia’s New York tenure will soon come to an end. He announced on Saturday the 2019 season would be his last, and rightfully so. He has a World Series ring and a Cy Young Award. He’ll get his 3,000th career strikeout in 2019, all but cementing his status as a Hall of Famer.

And all the while, Sabathia made the Yankees his own. All too often he had chances to leave New York, or demand a trade, but he didn’t.

CC Sabathia may not have been a career Yankee but given his history with the team, he certainly deserves the treatment of one.

A welcome arrival

Dateline: New York City, December 2008.

The city is reeling not only from the recent economic crash but from the lack of the Yankees in the playoffs. The Bronx Bombers finished 89-73, third in the AL East and eight games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees weren’t terrible that year, but their pitching staff still ranked 15th in baseball with a 4.28 ERA.

A change was needed, and his name was CC Sabathia. He had just gone 17-10 with a solid 2.70 ERA in 2008, splitting time between the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. Sabathia was lights out after his trade to the Brewers, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, so his value was sky high going into free agency.

But would the Yankees even be in play for Sabathia? Fans best remembered him as the big lefty who beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2007 ALDS. Sabathia also won the AL Cy Young that year. From a statistical standpoint, he made sense for the Yankees.

Except, the Yankees had been burned here before, hotter than Coney Island’s boardwalk in August. Remember the 2004 offseason after Boston came back from down 3-0 in the ALCS? New York spent a combined $61 million on Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright and got next to nothing out of them. Sabathia didn’t have the same red flags, but the concern about spending big money was there.

Immediate impact

Well, CC Sabathia eventually signed with the Yankees for seven years, $161 million, and made an impact best described as a slow burn. After struggling to a 1-3 record and 4.82 ERA his first six starts, Sabathia recovered to lead the majors with 19 wins. He posted a 1.98 ERA in the playoffs as the Yankees won the World Series. Sabathia kept up the momentum in 2010 by leading the majors in wins again, this time with 21 in his only 20-win season.

But there was potential drama looming. Sabathia was allowed to opt out of his contract after the 2011 season and fans were skittish. The drama of Alex Rodriguez opting out after 2007 still loomed. Sure, he re-signed, but the fear of Sabathia opting out and leaving was real. Fans feared Sabathia leaving the same way Linus does losing his blanket.

Cut to the big lefty winning 19 games in 2011, and everyone held their breath when the offseason began.

Sabathia’s curveball

Except, Sabathia never left. Actually, he didn’t even opt out of his contract! Rather, CC Sabathia negotiated a one-year contract extension to stay with the Yankees. Barring a change in circumstances, he would finish his career in pinstripes.

“My son loves it here. All my kids love it here. My wife loves it here, obviously, and I do, too. I love pitching for the Yankee fans and everything, so it was the easy choice,” he said.

Naturally, fans were thrilled.

Fall and rise

And even though CC Sabathia had to weather a storm of injuries and declining velocity the next few years, he never backed down. Instead of becoming an albatross, he fell from grace only to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Rather than fight aging, Sabathia changed his approach and focused more on developing offspeed pitches. Gone was the emphasis on blowing hitters away. In was inducing soft contact.

In doing all this, from the extension to the fall and comeback, something important changed in Sabathia. No longer was he the hired gun there on a contract, but a bona fide Yankee.

Final thoughts

CC Sabathia thus deserves all of the thanks from the Yankees and their fans. At no point did he give up and walk away from the game, even if it seemed like a good idea. Never did the Yankees try and buy him out. Just like so many of this great city’s residents, he kept getting up after being knocked down. Even after his initial contract expired, he stayed on thanks to three separate one-year deals. Even better, he became an incredible clubhouse leader.

Because as far as Sabathia was concerned, the Yankees were family. The fans were family even more. He’s going to go into Cooperstown wearing that interlocking NY on his cap, and for one reason: he chose us, and several times over.

That said, this only seems appropriate, even if it is a bit premature.

Thanks for everything, CC, and enjoy retirement.

You deserve it.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.