In this Oct. 1, 2015 photo, New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia grabs his cap as he leaves the mound during a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in New York. Sabathia said through a statement released by the Yankees that he has checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center. (AP Photo File/Kathy Willens)
NEW YORK (AP) — CC Sabathia walked into manager Joe Girardi’s office in Baltimore on Sunday and made a stunning admission: He has an alcohol problem.
“The first thing he said is, ‘I need help,’” Girardi said Monday during a workout at Yankee Stadium for the AL wild-card game. “I was shocked.”
Sabathia surprised many in the Yankees organization by revealing his problem. And with the team’s help, the burly left-hander is checking into a rehab center and will miss the postseason, a setback to the pitching staff the day before New York meets Houston in the AL wild-card game.
The team issued a statement Monday from the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner, who said he took the step to receive the care he needs and become the kind of person “I can be proud of.”
“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,” the 35-year-old Sabathia said. “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.”
A leader in the clubhouse who helped the Yankees to the 2009 World Series championship, Sabathia received the unconditional support of his teammates.
“We play for CC now,” Alex Rodriguez said.
Sabathia is 214-129 in 15 major league seasons and was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA this year, slowed by his surgically repaired right knee. After returning from the disabled list and using a tighter brace, the 300-pound-plus pitcher was 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his last five starts. He got the win against Boston last week that clinched the Yankees’ return to the postseason following a rare two-year absence.
“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide,” Sabathia said. “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.”
General manager Brian Cashman, along with the players and Girardi, would not elaborate on who was involved in helping Sabathia inform the team and come to the decision that he needed immediate help.
But Cashman did say that it wasn’t one incident that affected the timing of the decision, and that no one asked the six-time All-Star to put it off until after the postseason.
“It’s an acknowledgement that the issue that he has is bigger than what we are going through right now,” Cashman said.
In mid-August, TMZ posted video of Sabathia getting into a confrontation with hecklers outside a nightclub in Toronto.
“I just flipped out, you know? I could have handled it better,” Sabathia said a few days later. “Made a bad decision. Sometimes these things happen.”
The Yankees’ pitching staff struggled in September, with Masahiro Tanaka’s hamstring injury and ineffective outings by Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova. If the Yankees beat the Astros, rookie Luis Severino, Pineda, Nova and Tanaka could be their starters in the AL Division Series against Kansas City. Sabathia likely would have gotten a start.
“The fact that it’s occurred and this is something we are dealing with the day before our playoffs start makes me that much even more impressed with the courage that it’s taken,” Cashman said. “He could’ve come up with a lot of different things to hide whatever he is dealing with right now.”
Known for his positive demeanor, charitable work and love of Cap’n Crunch cereal, Sabathia was a first-round draft pick by Cleveland in 1998 and made his big league debut three years later. Convinced they could not afford to re-sign him, the Indians traded him to Milwaukee during the 2008 season, and he helped the Brewers reach the playoffs.
“We’re proud of him for stepping up and admitting he had a problem and realizing it’s a whole lot more important than what we’ve got going on around here,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Since 2009 he’s been a huge part of what we’ve done around here. … Definitely would like to play well tomorrow night and advance and make him proud.”
Sabathia signed a $161 million, seven-year contract with the Yankees before the 2009 season and helped New York win the World Series during his first year in the Bronx. Rather than exercise his right to terminate the contract after the 2011 season, he agreed to a new deal — adding a $25 million guaranteed salary for 2016 and a $25 million team option for 2017 with a $5 million buyout. That salary would become guaranteed if he doesn’t have a major left shoulder injury next season.
“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness,” Sabathia said.