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Jim Ingraham

CC Sabathia always made a big impression

  • Yankees-Baseball

    New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia smiles after a news conference at the New York Yankees spring training baseball facility, Saturday in Tampa, Fla. Sabathia announced he will retire after the 2019 season.

    LYNNE SLADKY / AP

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Carsten Charles Sabathia, who, according to Baseball-Reference.com, has made over a quarter of a billion dollars in his chosen profession, announced Saturday that he is choosing to walk away from his chosen profession following the 2019 season.

Carsten Charles entered his chosen profession in the summer of 1998. That was the year the Indians selected him with the 20th pick in the first round of the June draft, right after the Angels took Seth Etherton at 18 and the Giants took Tony Torcato at 19.

At No. 20, the Indians hit it big with the big man. At the time they drafted him, Sabathia was a 17-year-old parade balloon. He stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 250 unchiseled pounds. But at Vallejo High School in northern California, he could throw baseballs hard, and hit them harder. He was a two-way player who scared to death hitters AND pitchers.

“Sabathia has been described as a cross between Dave Parker and Vida Blue,” read Baseball America’s scouting report at the time. “Most scouts see him first as a pitcher — but he will have to watch his weight.”

Sabathia watched his weight, and so did everyone else. You couldn’t miss it. Eventually, he not only flirted with 300 pounds, they eventually married. Funny thing, though: it didn’t matter. He was such a great athlete, he could get everything moving in the right direction, to the point where he sped through the Indians’ minor league system and was still nearly a teenager when he arrived in the big leagues.

In spring training of 2001, virtually all of the Indians’ decision-makers felt Sabathia, who had yet to throw a pitch at the Triple-A level, needed to start the season in the minor leagues.

But manager Charlie Manuel outtalked them all, and persuaded the group that Carsten Charles was ready for the big leagues now. When the Indians came north, Sabathia was in the rotation. At age 20, he was the baby of the bunch. The other starters were Bartolo Colon (28), Charles Nagy, Dave Burba (both 34) and Chuck Finley (38).

Sabathia outpitched them all, going 17-5 and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Ichiro Suzuki.

In 2007, ironically, when he became the first Indians pitcher in 35 years to win the Cy Young Award, Sabathia had the worst start of his career, at absolutely the worst possible time. The Indians were leading Boston 3-1 in the ALDS. Needing just one more win to advance to the World Series, the Indians in Game 5 were playing at home, with their ace and soon-to-be Cy Young Award winner on the mound.

But Carsten Charles couldn’t close the deal. In six innings he gave up four runs and 10 hits in a 7-1 Boston rout. The series went back to Fenway Park, where the Indians got clobbered 23-4 in the last two games, blowing that 3-1 lead and a chance to go to the World Series.

The only consolation for Sabathia was his 19-7 record, 3.21 ERA and league-leading 241 innings pitched led to the Cy Young Award, which he won decisively over runner-up Josh Beckett, the pitcher who beat him in that pivotal Game 5 of the ALDS.

The Indians collapsed the following year, and with the team floundering in fifth place in the division at 37-51, and with Carsten Charles in the last year of his contract, Indians general manager Mark Shapiro traded him to Milwaukee for three players, plus a player to be named later, who was named Michael Brantley.

Sabathia pitched the Brewers into the playoffs by going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 spectacular starts. Then, predictably, as Sabathia was moving into his peak earning years, he signed as a free agent with the Yankees, and has played for New York ever since. His upcoming 11th season with the Yankees will be his 19th and final one in a major league uniform.

Throughout his career, Sabathia has been a durable, productive professional who competes, leads and stays out of trouble. His has been a model career, starting as a 20-year-old in Cleveland and ending as a 39-year-old in New York.

In an era when the money, the celebrity, the distractions and temptations have never been greater for professional athletes, Sabathia has never veered off course.

Is he a Hall of Famer? Probably. With 2,986 strikeouts, he ranks 17th on the all-time list, and with 132 more in his last season he would move past John Smoltz, Curt Schilling and Bob Gibson and into 14th place. Sabathia ranks 51st all time in wins (246-153) and 11 more would move him past eight Hall of Famers, including Gibson and Carl Hubbell, and into 42nd all time.

With one year left, Sabathia’s 62.2 WAR is better than Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford, Early Wynn and Jim Bunning.

The Big Man has had a big career.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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