Sports view: Sabathia chooses self over baseball

tsj column writers - sports viewBy Jordan Kobritz

On the eve of the baseball playoffs, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia announced that he was checking himself into a rehab facility “to receive the professional care and assistance I need to treat my disease.”

The announcement shocked the baseball world.  Sabathia was in line to start the first game of the American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals had the Yankees prevailed against the Houston Astros in the wild card game.  They didn’t, which took the spotlight off Sabathia’s decision.  But why would a player, especially one with Sabathia’s deserved reputation for being the ultimate teammate, elect to sit out the entire playoffs?  He must have been tormented over the decision to choose self over his teammates.

But it wasn’t just Sabathia and his teammates who had a stake in the decision.  In a written statement released by the Yankees, Sabathia said, “I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series.  It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.”  Kudos to Sabathia for not only admitting he had a problem but for the courage to take the right action under extremely difficult circumstances.  He chose long term health and the wellbeing of his family over playing a game.

Drinking and sports go together like a hand in a glove.  If you don’t believe that just look at the advertisements that surround any professional sporting event.  Beer companies advertise not only in stadiums but across every platform that delivers a game.  It’s not only fans that enjoy adult beverages before, during and after sporting events but the athletes themselves.  They have down time between contests, the financial wherewithal to imbibe, the pressure and stress that comes with being an athlete and the social pressures from friends and teammates, all of which make them susceptible to end up like CC.

In a different age and time, Sabathia may have been criticized for his decision to not only admit his problem publicly but to forego the playoffs.  Alcohol and athletes have a long history in sports, and baseball is hardly immune.   A 2011 article on Bleacher Report named the 25 biggest partiers in baseball history.  Of the 25, 11 were former Yankees, including Babe Ruth at #2 and Wade Boggs at #1.  

It should be noted that only two of the 11 spent their entire careers in a Yankee uniform, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, so the list is hardly an indictment of the team or the market.  Also making the list was Billy Martin who was once traded by the Yankees because the team believed his partying ways were a bad influence on his teammates.  However, he later returned – on four different occasions – to manage the team.  

Boggs’ beer consumption is legendary, with teammates reporting he regularly consumed 60-70 cans of beer on cross country flights – in each direction.  Boggs once denied – unconvincingly – that he consumed 64 cans of beer during one flight.

The Yankees could have handled Sabathia’s situation differently.  If the Texas Rangers could assign a bodyguard to keep Josh Hamilton from returning to the abyss that once threatened his career, why couldn’t New York have done the same for Sabathia?  But that’s an issue for historians to debate.    

Sabathia ended his statement by saying “Being an adult means being accountable.  Being a baseball player means that others look up to you.  I want my kids – and others who may have become fans of mine over the years – to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

He added that he expects to return to baseball next season.  Here’s hoping he does.  A man of Sabathia’s stature, on and off the field, is easy to root for.

 

   

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