What CC Sabathia has done is not easy. He makes it look easy but it's not. Coming to New York, and specifically the Bronx, with a giant-sized contract with giant-sized expectations does not always work out so well, as arriving from elsewhere to fill the role of ace of the staff for the New York Yankees is a tough task.
Over the decades there have been a handful of success stories, such as the Yanks' acquisition of Allie Reynolds from the Cleveland Indians after the 1946 season. Reynolds helped the Bombers win six World Series titles in his eight years in the Bronx, posting a 131-60 record with a 3.30 ERA and pitching in five All-Star Games. In 1975, Catfish Hunter essentially became baseball's first free agent, signed with the Yankees and in his first season with the team (1975) he led the AL in wins with 23, lost 14, threw 30 complete games, had an ERA of 2.58 and a WHIP of 1.01. Arm troubles plagued him his last four seasons with the Yankees but he was the veteran leader who taught the team how to win. Jimmy Key and David Wells also had success with the Yankees, but they didn't necessarily show up with the same fanfare as Sabathia and Hunter. And Mike Mussina was never really as consistently effective as Sabathia, nor did he win a World Series.
Of course, there's a longer list of failures. Or maybe pitchers who only had mild success with the team. Randy Johnson came to New York and shoved a photographer. Jack McDowell gave Yankee fans a one-fingered salute. Ed Whitson is the poster boy for the "can't handle New York" theme. Just say the words "can't handle New York" when passing any stranger on the street, and he'll invariably answer back, "Ed Whitson." Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers? Not so much. Roger Clemens was just along for the ride, and we now know that he was most likely unnaturally enhanced the latter part of his career. Even Sabathia's teammate A.J. Burnett has had a rocky go of things in his time with the Yankees.
But Sabathia has had a smooth transition to the Bronx, with nothing but success, and he's doing it nonchalantly while sidestepping any and all controversy. He hasn't pushed a photographer. He hasn't flipped off the fans. He hasn't melted down in the New York limelight. He hasn't swapped wives with any of his teammates. He hasn't been called a fat, puss-y toad. He's just pitched. And pitched phenomenally at that. Whether it's stopping a team losing streak or winning the World Series, he's been the definition of an ace.
The behemoth hurler -- you could have fit three Phil Rizzutos into his uniform -- was great in his years in Cleveland and also in his short time in Milwaukee. But Cleveland and Milwaukee aren't New York City. Sabathia matched his career high in wins with 19 (which also led the AL) in his first year in Yankee pinstripes while only losing eight. He sported an ERA of 3.37, a 1.15 WHIP and a WAR of 4.3. He was a big part of the Yankees' World Series run, of course, and was named the ALCS MVP. His second season was even better, besting his career high in wins by two with a 21-7 record (again leading the league in wins), lowering his ERA to 3.18, with a 1.19 WHIP and WAR of 5. And he's right back at it again this year, with an 11-4 record (yet again at the top of the leader board in victories), a 3.05 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 2.7 WAR.
Mariano Rivera is as automatic as it gets in the ninth inning (well, with the occasional human outing such as on Sunday), and it seems as if Sabathia is just as automatic in the first seven innings. In his 18 starts this season, he has given up more than four earned runs only two times, and he's made it through six innings every start except once (and in that one he lasted five and 2/3), and he's pitched seven or more innings in two-thirds of his starts. Besides throwing nothing but quality innings, he's durable and reliable as well.
It may be odd to say that CC Sabathia is underappreciated, but what he's accomplished when looking back at the history of big-name free agents or trade acquisitions is impressive. With the red-hot, big-city spotlight shining on him, he's thrived, and he's done it as effortlessly as can be. He's taken on the challenges New York City has thrown at him and whipped them all. Apparently he wasn't good enough to have been chosen for this year's American League All-Star roster, but he's good enough for us. More than good enough in fact. The All-Star team can have all those other pitchers. New York will gladly keep CC Sabathia.