Beloved hurler CC Sabathia achieved baseball immortality in the Arizona desert last week. When he struck out former teammate John Ryan Murphy swinging on a 1-2 pitch, the veteran southpaw joined the ranks of the vaunted 3,000-strikeout club.
”I didn’t want it to be Murph,” Sabathia said. “Me and him are really close. I’ve known him his whole career and he’s a great guy. I didn’t want it to be (Diamondbacks starter Zack) Greinke and I didn’t want it to be Murph.”
Some players claim that they don’t think about milestones or other individual achievements. Many seem to read from the same rote script when talking about always putting the team first. Not Sabathia. Not about this.
”Since the end of last year and coming up short 14 strikeouts, it’s been the only thing I have been thinking about for the last six months,” Sabathia said. “To actually have it done and now I can worry about the season.”
Sabathia’s honesty is refreshing, but it’s not a new thing from him. His heartfelt sincerity is one reason why CC has always been so well-liked and respected by everyone who comes into contact with him.
Until fallout from the Steroids Era affected conventional thinking, achievement of certain baseball milestones were said to guarantee “automatic” enshrinement in Cooperstown. Among those were 3,000 hits or 500 home runs for hitters, and 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts for pitchers.
In baseball history, 32 players have reached the 3,000-hit mark, while 27 have slugged 500 home runs. There are 24 members of the 300-win club, but Sabathia became just the 17th pitcher to notch 3,000 strikeouts. Of all the milestone clubs, CC just joined the most exclusive.
Every eligible member of the 3,000-strikeout club has already been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame except Roger Clemens (4,672 strikeouts) and Curt Schilling (3,116). Although Clemens was accused of steroid use, others facing such allegations have already been enshrined in Cooperstown. What he and Schilling have in common is that both are intensely disliked by the media.
Sabathia faces no such hurdle. If anything, the 2001 Rookie of the Year Award runner-up’s universal popularity among the press corps will aid his admission to baseball’s hallowed Hall.
It’s not just his popularity either. Sabathia checks every single box on the published guidelines for Hall of Fame membership:
”Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Voters have sometimes used the “integrity, sportsmanship, and character” qualifications to deny entry to some, but the so-called “character clause” can only enhance Sabathia’s candidacy. The 2009 ALCS MVP has always been revered as a pillar of the community, as well as being beloved and respected by teammates and foes alike.
Congratulations to @CC_Sabathia on his 3000th Ticket punched. Dude is a Nor Cal legend, MLB hero & a prime example of how to uplift the communities that help one along their journey to greatness. Helluva body of work Lefty. Honored to have shared the mound with this man.— Dallas Braden (@DALLASBRADEN209) May 1, 2019
Big C! What an accomplishment! One of the best to ever do it— Phil Hughes (@PJHughes45) May 1, 2019
CC Sabathia becomes only the third left-handed pitcher in @MLB history with 3,000 strikeouts. Huge congratulations to one of the most respected people in the sport, who has used his platform to help countless people -- inside and outside the game -- for so many years. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 1, 2019
There are two other points of major significance about Sabathia’s milestone strikeout that will undoubtedly weigh heavily in his favor when it comes time for voters to ponder his candidacy. The 2007 Cy Young Award winner is just the third left-hander in history to join the 3,000-strikeout club, after Steve Carlton (4,136) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Sabathia is also only the third black pitcher after Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson to notch 3,000 K’s, a feat he takes great pride in.
“I know both of those guys and being a Black Ace is something I take very serious, being one of the guys to win 20 games,” Sabathia said. “To be on that list of guys with 3,000 strikeouts is hard to grasp. It’s hard to think about, but it’s cool to be on that list.”
A five-time top-five finisher in the Cy Young Award voting, Sabathia stands only two victories shy of the 250-win plateau. Only 13 players in baseball history have notched 250 wins and also recorded 3,000 strikeouts. If he can corral four more victories before he hangs up the spikes, then Sabathia will have succeeded in surpassing the legendary Gibson.
Assuming Sabathia doesn’t have a change of heart about retiring following this season, the 2009 World Series champion will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in the fall of 2024. Unlike this year, when two candidates destined for Cooperstown made their debut together, Sabathia figures to stand alone as the marquee first timer on the ballot.
All of these factors auger well for six-time All-Star going in on his first try. It’s not a certainty, though.
When the time comes, the “small Hall” crowd will undoubtedly unearth some stat which shows that Sabathia should be denied membership. The debate will rage. Nevertheless, I believe that such efforts will ultimately prove fruitless. CC, I predict, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday — with a Yankees cap on his bust. I also believe that he should and will go in with the Class of 2025, as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I’m really looking forward to that day. He truly deserves it.