How CC Sabathia Became an Alcoholic—and How He Quit


Adapted from Till The End by CC Sabathia with Chris Smith. Copyright © 2021 by Carsten Charles Sabathia Jr. Published by Roc Lit 101, an imprint of Random House.

I was standing in a damp cinder block storage room under Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles, wearing my New York Yankees t-shirt and my gray uniform pants, at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, searching for another bottle of Hennessy. Ever since I got to the ballpark I had been going back and forth from the clubhouse to the storage room, pouring myself drinks. In a half-hour I was scheduled to throw a bullpen, my workout between starts. And I was so blasted I couldn’t walk straight. I had come back from three surgeries and fought through hundreds of hangovers; the one thing I could always do was throw when I was supposed to throw. But now the room was spinning. There was no way I could take the ball and throw it without embarrassing myself. Man, what am I doing?

For a long time drinking had been fun—like when I got my first major league win and five of my Cleveland Indians teammates took me out to a bar and stuffed every pocket of my suit with cash. The next morning I woke up wearing $10,000 in crumpled bills, as if I was the world’s largest fully-clothed stripper. And there was never any trouble finding guys to go drinking with. There’s a lot of alcoholics in baseball. A lot. Many of them great players.

But here’s the truly weird part: I could turn it on and off. For three days I would get absolutely ripped—starting fights, pissing in the bed, that kind of ripped. And then not touch a drop for two days leading up to my next start. Say I pitched on Monday. That night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, I was hammered. Thursday, Friday—detox, nothing but water and Gatorade. Saturday, when I came out of the game, I needed a Crown and Sprite at my locker. From the last pitch I threw the cycle started all over again.

I was a disciplined drunk for 15 years, so good at timing my benders that I’d won a Cy Young award and a championship ring and been paid $260 million. My career numbers looked as if they might eventually give me a shot at being elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. And maybe what meant the most of all to me was that my teammates—in Cleveland, in Milwaukee, in New York—regularly said that they loved having me on their side and looked to me as a leader in the clubhouse.  

It was if my arm wasn’t connected to the rest of my body. No, not just to the rest of my body—to the rest of my life.  My mind, my bloodstream, probably my liver, they were addled by alcohol.  My left arm, the one that carried me from the streets of Vallejo, California to the mound at Yankee Stadium, that helped me hoist a World Series trophy, that built a secure life for my wife and our four kids—that arm somehow stayed untainted. Yeah, over the years it required ice and heat and surgeons and rehab, but those were tune ups. As my arm got treated and pampered, so it could continue being an asset to billion-dollar corporations and to my family, the rest of me was increasingly a mess.

One time I’d gotten drunk while watching my oldest son’s high school football practice. Amber, my wife, had endured way too many of my drunken brawls and blackouts. That night, when I got home to our place in northern New Jersey, she threw me out. In the driveway was my dream car, a ’72 Olds Cutlass, a drop top, which I’d had repainted silver and black in honor of my beloved Oakland Raiders. I got behind the wheel, lowered the roof, and drove down the hill. It’s a twisty road, and there are no streetlights. Just before you reach the stop sign and intersection at the bottom there’s one last curve to the left. I turned left, and I guess I kept turning, because I hopped the curb and went smashing through a ten-foot steel fence. The Cutlass didn’t stop until we hit a tree. 



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