The evening before taking the hill for the first time this spring, CC Sabathia released a personal essay titled “My Toughest Out” through The Players’ Tribune. Although he has been very open with reporters since undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction last October, this article is the most in-depth discussion of Sabathia’s struggles with alcohol and his experience in rehab that fans have access to. In it, he discusses the weekend in Baltimore that led him to finally seek help, admitting that his drinking had finally impacted his ability to help his teammates if he was called upon to pitch. He traces the issue back to earlier in his career with the Cleveland Indians, when he used alcohol to overcome his natural shyness and fit in with his teammates. Another influence that Sabathia considers is the genetic predisposition towards addiction he inherited from his father, who died in 2004 after years of substance abuse.
He defends the somewhat controversial timing of his decision to seek help, right before the Yankees entered the playoffs last October, writing:
“Honestly, it would have been easier in a lot of ways if I had waited — I would have drawn much less attention to myself. But if I didn’t enter rehab right away, I knew I wouldn’t go through with it. With addictions, it takes so much effort to convince yourself to do something to fix the problem, but it’s very easy to talk yourself out of going through with it.”
In the piece, he makes the distinction between making baseball decisions and life decisions. For Sabathia, this situation called for the latter. Having one of the most universally respected and admired players in the game healthy and happy is far more important than anything that takes place on the diamond. He should be applauded for being so vocal and open during the whole process. Hopefully his excellent example will serve as an inspiration for others who are facing similar obstacles.
From a baseball perspective, having a CC Sabathia who is at peace and focused on his craft can only be a good thing for the New York Yankees and their fans. He believes his addiction began in earnest in 2012, which not coincidentally was when his performance took a severe downturn. Whether one problem caused the other or they were interrelated somehow is something Sabathia may not even know, but removing the negative effects of alcohol from his system can only help his physical health. Combined with the knee brace he’s been using to address the degenerative condition in his knee, this may be the healthiest CC Sabathia has been since his peak Yankee seasons of 2009-2012. Even if he doesn’t completely return to form, there are certainly reasons to be hopeful for a successful 2016 campaign.