Yesterday, it was announced that CC Sabathia would be the spokesperson for the My Relationship with Alcohol campaign, which will aim to raise awareness about alcohol dependence. Sabathia himself suffered from the disease, and checked himself into rehab in late 2015. The former Yankees pitcher has been outspoken about his struggles and his road to recovery, and hopes that with the campaign, he can inspire others who dealt with the same affliction to seek help.
Sabathia sat down with Pinstripe Alley to promote the campaign, discuss his upcoming memoir, and dish on the Yankees’ up-and-down 2021 season. The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.
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You just launched the My Relationship with Alcohol campaign, can you tell us a little bit about the campaign, and why you decided now was the time to do something like this?
You know, I think it’s just perfect timing to team up with Alkermes to launch this campaign. I think it’s just perfect, it speaks to my story, how I had to rethink my relationship with alcohol. I started drinking when I was 14 years old, and was dependent on alcohol for 21 years, and I did some great things and I did some bad things during all those times, but I just want to let people know that there is help there for you. This website is one of those great places that people can turn to if they feel that they might be alcohol dependent.
(Editor’s note: you can access the My Relationship with Alcohol website here)
On July 6th, you’ll be releasing your new memoir, “Till the End” that will also discuss alcohol dependence. This comes on the heels of your HBO documentary from the end of last year. What can fans expect to read in the memoir about other aspects of your career and your experiences in baseball that they might not have seen in the movie?
Oh yeah, if people watched the doc, there wasn’t a lot of baseball in there. So the book goes in depth a lot about my early-career, who helped me a lot, you know, [Cleveland pitching coach] Carl Willis was a huge help to me. It goes in-depth about stuff off the field, a lot of the drinking stuff. One of the funny stories I just think about — one of the nights that me, Cliff Lee, and Johnny Damon got into a big fight in Cleveland, just an alcohol-fueled, crazy night. So it’s a bunch of those types of stories in the book that we didn’t really get to tell in the doc, because you can’t get too detailed. There are some aspects of the book that I think people are gonna find pretty cool. It covers my whole story.
You know, it’s weird. I wasn’t really excited about writing the book, because I didn’t think people would think it was interesting. I had normalized being alcohol-dependent, I had normalized all these people passing away in my life and dealing with all of that, and still, you know, being successful through all of that. So I think that all makes for an interesting memoir, now that I’ve gone back and read it.
It can feel like you’ve got a million things going on with the memoir, the campaign, the R2C2 podcast, and you’ve even been playing rec softball; you called playing in Central Park a “bucket-list thing.” Is getting on the field again a way to scratch that competitive itch? Or is it just a fun thing to do?
Nah, that’s just a fun thing to do. I think my competitive itch is gone. For me, it was kind of like integrating into being a real New Yorker, being a part of the city, just being a retired guy now. I just wanted to feel integrated into the city. And I felt like Central Park softball is the best way to do that. It’s been a lot of fun just learning the city, being able to drive to Central Park. I never did that here for 12 years. I never did any of those things. It was from Jersey to the Bronx all the time, back and forth. So it’s just about being able to experience the city and be a real New Yorker.
Related to that, I wanted to touch on something that you mentioned at the end of “Under the Grapefruit Tree.” You mention how fulfilled and how much joy you found post-career. Do you have any advice for other — maybe former — athletes, or even anyone who has to move on from a passion, about how can they move on like you did and find fulfillment in things that aren’t the sport that they gave everything to?
Wow, that’s that’s a great question. Nobody’s ever asked me that. I think I’ve done that because I was ready to be done. I was ready to be home, I have a 17-year-old, I have a 15-year-old like, I got four kids. So I was ready to pour all of that energy that I used in the Bronx into my family, to be around and be a dad. So yeah, I had never thought it like that. I never thought about it like that because I just focused all my energy and changed it into being a dad, and focusing on getting sober, and all these different things, you know I just found little different things that I like to do other than what I was really good at. I was really good at baseball, and I knew that from the time I was really little, and sometimes, you know, I didn’t really necessarily always like it. But now, I’m doing everything that I like to do.
Turning to the Yankees, this season’s been a little disappointing so far. You’ve been on a few Yankee teams that came in with tons of expectations and underperformed for a bit; in particular, the 2009 and 2012 teams got off to shaky starts. Can you speak to what the morale is like for a team where everyone knows that they’re better than what they’ve shown?
It depends year-to-year; 2009, we knew we were really good. We were just waiting for a spark. And it ended up being A-Rod coming off the DL, the very first pitch he sees, he hit a three-run home run. And I remember looking at Jeter and saying, “We gonna win the World Series, it’s over now.”
So you just wait for that spark, that moment. In 2012, it happened later in the season. We played a big series against Baltimore at the end of the year. And we ended up winning that series and the division. So it just takes a spark to happen. Maybe that triple play could do it for them man, those little things like that can maybe do it. It’s just weird that this group of Yankees — they go through these dead periods too much for me. I was on the team too, where it’s just periods where we just don’t show up. And that was never the case in ‘09 through ‘12. There are differences in this team, and this group of guys than that earlier group of guys that I played with.
Do you think there’s anything about the team that causes them to seem like they aren’t showing up, or is it just that these guys are streaky, and there happens to be a bunch of streaky guys on this particular team?
It’s just the way the lineup is constructed, it’s just a streaky lineup. The only really consistent guys you have in there are Judge, DJ, and Gio, that you can really count to hit near .300. And the way the lineup is constructed, it’s all right-handed, and it can be pitched to. And there’s just gonna be times when we’re not gonna score a lot of runs.
Elsewhere in baseball, the biggest story is the sticky stuff. Do you think that MLB’s blanket strategy, where they’ve just sort of universally said everything is illegal, is the right approach? Do you think a more nuanced approach could have been better?
I think they should have gone after just one thing, but how do you do that? You kind of have to just govern it all right now, and then figure out what’s helping guys with spin rate and what’s actually just helping guys get a grip. I’m from the school where I think hitters want guys to get a grip. I mentioned that on my podcast, and there were a bunch of guys who called me to say, “Nah, what these guys are using now, it’s something different”.
It’s not the pine tar or rosin, this stuff over here is actually making these guys better pitchers, and they want that stuff out of the game. So I would love for MLB just to try to target that, but how do you do that in the middle of a season? For now, we just got to blanket it all and try to control it all until you can get to the offseason and make some rules.
Do you think the Yankees should make a splash at the deadline, or do you think they should just roll with what they got?
They should definitely try to make a splash. I don’t know if they need pitching, because Sevy is hopefully coming back, I think they need a hitter, thinking off the top of my head, somebody like a Michael Brantley-type player, whoever that player is. A good lefty who can hit lefties and play the outfield, on my teams that was [Hideki] Matsui. We need that guy that can play every day and is left-handed.
Don’t we all need that guy! Last one, so, maybe based on your knowledge of the guys in there, or maybe just based on what you’ve seen, who on the team that got off to a shaky start or just otherwise unheralded is gonna start turning heads?
Gary, Gary is getting locked in. If you look at that last double he hit, where he was running the bases like he was invincible, that ball he hit was to right-center. If you look at him in 2016, that’s where he was hitting the ball. He hit 20 home runs, and he was hitting them everywhere. If he’s hitting the ball in the gaps like that, then I think we’re gonna be fine.
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Thanks to CC Sabathia for his time.