It’s been one-hundred and fifty years since the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first fully professional baseball organization, and in that time just three left-handed pitchers have ever recorded at least 3,000 strikeouts; Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson and now, Carsten Charles Sabathia Jr. Carlton and Johnson both permanently reside in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and following his 2nd inning strikeout of Arizona Diamondbacks Catcher (and former teammate) John Ryan Murphy on Tuesday night, CC Sabathia should join them in just a little over a half decade.
The story of CC Sabathia’s career is a 19-year rollercoaster ride consisting of immense highs and detrimental lows. It’s easy to look at his early career with the Cleveland Indians and see a Cy Young Award winner and a guy who solidified himself as one of the league’s best.
However, Sabathia’s time in Cleveland is not what sets him apart from the rest; what does is what has unfolded since he was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers in July of 2008. Amid a playoff race, the Brewers brought Sabathia in for one reason and one reason only; to carry them into October, and that is exactly what he did. Sabathia’s performance down the stretch was nothing short of legendary.
Taking the ball on short rest, giving everything he had and putting the team on his back, he started 17 games for Milwaukee, seven of which he finished himself (including 3 shutouts). All in all, Sabathia was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in his short tenure with the Brewers and thus, his legend was born.
This brilliance led Sabathia to the Bronx, where the Yankees signed the lefty to a record 7-year $161 million deal. His first year in pinstripes, Sabathia posted a league-best 19 wins and an ERA of 3.37, good enough for fourth in AL Cy Young voting, but what he did in October defined his 2009 season. In the ’09 postseason, Sabathia started five games for New York, highlighted by his ALCS MVP award-winning performance against the Angels, en route to the Yankees 27th World Series title. What followed 2009 were three more vintage CC type seasons, including 55 wins and a 3.17 ERA, but then came the struggles.
2013 began a truly rough three-year patch, as it seemed overnight, Sabathia had lost his velocity and what had made him so great. During this time, injuries nagged Sabathia seemingly to no end. As if his resilience hadn’t been tested enough, Sabathia struggled with alcoholism throughout this time as well, to the point where in October of 2015, just before the Yankees were set to face the Houston Astros in the AL Wild Card Game, Sabathia checked himself into a rehab facility.
Amid countless injuries and off the field distractions, it appeared as if his career was coming to a screeching halt. However in 2016, with some assistance from former Yankee LHP and friend Andy Pettitte, Sabathia turned a corner.
Sabathia was not the same guy he had been in the past, but he had learned how to survive with his diminished stuff. This new found mentality has allowed Sabathia to not just keep his playing career alive but also to improve each season.
Shortly after signing the second of his back-to-back one-year deals with the Yankees, Sabathia announced 2019 would be his final season in the big leagues. As he now sits around 250 wins and over 3,000 strikeouts, CC Sabathia has all but solidified his status in baseball history and his rollercoaster of a career should and likely will end with the highest of highs in the baseball world, with a plaque in Cooperstown.
For argument’s sake, let’s take a look at some of the competition Sabathia will face when he first appears on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2025:
Ichiro Suzuki (Eligible 2025)– One of the greatest pure hitters the game has seen, Ichiro will most certainly be elected in his first year on the ballot in 2025. Ichiro is the only player, aside from Sabathia, who we can say for certain is retiring in 2019 and thus will first be on the ballot in 2025.
Joe Mauer (Eligible 2024)– Mauer’s Hall of Fame case is one of the more interesting in recent memory. The former batting champion, at his peak, was one of the top players in baseball and went on a rare dominant run of hitting excellence. Longevity is the only thing standing in Mauer’s way en route to Cooperstown. As he finished with a .306 batting average and over 2,000 hits, Mauer should be considered borderline, and as he likely won’t be elected in 2024, he will provide further competition for Sabathia in the year(s) following.
David Wright (Eligible 2024)- Often compared to Don Mattingly, there is no denying the greatness we saw from David Wright. However, as injury-riddled as Wright’s career was, it is very unlikely he is enshrined in Cooperstown. As is the case with Mauer, Wright has little to no shot of being a first-ballot electee, thus he too will join the ballot in 2025 and beyond.
Victor Martinez (Eligible 2024)– In a rather underrated 16-year career, V-Mart posted similar numbers to that of Joe Mauer. Over 2,000 hits, a .295 average and over 250 home-runs is certainly a wonderful career, but ultimately is not good enough to land in Cooperstown. Martinez will surely garner a fair amount of votes, which could provide further competition for Sabathia and others.
John Lackey (Eligible 2023)– As of now, Lackey is really the only competition for Sabathia when it comes to Starting Pitchers. However, Sabathia’s numbers blow Lackey’s out of the water. Under 200 wins, less than 2,300 strikeouts and an ERA exceeding 3.90 ultimately will keep Lackey out of the Hall of Fame, and likely will not provide too much competition for Sabathia on the ballot.
Francisco Rodriguez (Eligible 2023)– Holder of the all-time single-season saves record (62), ‘K-Rod’ could very well end up in enshrined in Cooperstown someday, but seeing as it took Trevor Hoffman and his 601 saves three years to be elected, it will take some time for K-Rod to garner the 75% needed, if he gets it at all.
Players who could retire in 2019 and provide competition on the ballot in 2025 include: Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, Bartolo Colon, Dustin Pedroia, Hunter Pence, Matt Holliday, Brandon Phillips, Troy Tulowitzki, Brian McCann, Ben Zobrist