Earlier this week, the Yankees announced that CC Sabathia would be placed on the 10-day disabled list. The move was hardly cause for alarm. The Yankees explained that the 38-year-old veteran simply needed a “timeout”. It appeared the Yankees, rather than be reactive and wait for a flareup to address Sabathia’s lingering injury problems, were attempting to be proactive.
The Yankees took the chance to skip just one or two starts from Sabathia in order to ensure Sabathia’s comfort and health. The difference between Sabathia and someone like Luis Cessa is negligible over the course of a week. The health benefits from allowing an older player like Sabathia to catch his breath and recharge before the stretch run? Those effects might not be so negligible.
In fact, the tact the Yankees are taking is one they, and the rest of the league, really, should take much more often. Baseball, and sports in general, is wrapped up in machismo, in the idea that if you’re not playing hurt, then you’re not even playing at all. You see it when players like Gary Sanchez rush back from injury too quickly and then re-injure themselves. You see it elsewhere in sports, where a toxic culture of overwork in the University of Maryland football program led to the tragic death of a player at practice.
The Yankees and Sabathia’s decision flies in the face of that orthodoxy. Sabathia, faced with what manager Aaron Boone described as a little extra swelling after a stellar one-hit effort against the Rangers this weekend, will not fight through unnecessary pain. He will not risk further injury just to save face in front of fans, and perhaps fellow players, that might see him as soft.
Sabathia will get the treatment and rest he needs in order to be at the top of his game. Now, the Yankees might be making a bit of an exception because of Sabathia’s age and his elder-statesmen status with the club. Sabathia is one of the longest-tenured players on the team and in the game, and he certainly has earned the right to take a breather if he feels his body requires it.
That right should be extended to every player, regardless of status. The Yankees’ superstar, Aaron Judge, should not rush back from his wrist injury until he feels 100%. Likewise, if the Yankees’ 25th-man/utility infielder Ronald Torreyes were to suffer a similar injury, he shouldn’t be pressured to return until he felt he was fully capable and ready to help the team.
There’s always a tricky line to walk when it comes to professional athletes pushing themselves. Obviously, they need to work feverishly to maintain their standing as elite performers. They should be allowed to work long hours and hone their craft if they so choose, as many of them likely need to in order to stick at the highest level.
They should not be expected, however, to push themselves through pain and gamble with injury when the prudent move is to heal and allow themselves the chance to play at full capacity. This move with Sabathia shows the Yankees are open to such an idea, and they should be aggressive in making this the status quo in their clubhouse.
Sabathia is setting a strong example. While some fans may call him weak for taking a minute when he is not unequivocally injured, Sabathia is demonstrating a certain kind of strength. That is the strength to risk the potential criticism, the cries of weakness, and disregard them. The strength to walk in opposition to a culture that encourages, nigh demands, players suffer through undue pain. If the Yankees, and the rest of baseball, continue to take Sabathia’s example, the sport would be better off for it.