“All I ever wanted, you know for people to remember me as, is just as a good teammate.”
—CC Sabathia, February 16, 2019
By this standard, CC Sabathia is a first-ballot Hall of Fame teammate.
Cleveland’s first round pick in the 1998 draft, Sabathia debuted with the Indians in 2001, led them to the playoffs as a rookie and won the Cy Young Award in 2007.
He famously pitched Milwaukee to the playoffs in 2008 after a midseason trade, working on short rest in three consecutive starts over the final two weeks without regard to his own health as free agency and a nine-figure payday approached.
And in 2009, Sabathia came to New York and led the Yankees to a world championship.
Two decades of teammates agree on the competitor, the warrior and the friend they have had in CC Sabathia.
Nick Swisher (NYY 2009-12)
"I definitely think he accomplished that goal. For somebody with that much talent to want to be recognized for only that thing is crazy to me."
David Riske (CLE 2001-05, MIL 2008)
"You will not find one person who was a teammate of his that does not like CC Sabathia."
Derek Jeter (NYY 2009-14)
"CC was a terrible teammate."
"No, I’m just playing. CC, by far, is one of my favorite teammates."
John McDonald (CLE 2001-04)
"He stood out as a minor league player. He was never shy of feeling like he was going to be the best player on the team, but he was never above anybody else."
Josh Bard (CLE 2002-05, NYY coach 2018-19)
"He’s an ultra-loyal person, maybe the most loyal person I’ve ever known. He’s never gotten too big for anyone. And that goes back to his mom. She’s a sweet lady. And she’s tough. You can see that’s been brought into him."
Aaron Boone (CLE 2005-06, NYY manager 2018-19)
"He relates to so many guys from our sport that come from so many different places and backgrounds."
Travis Hafner (CLE 2003-08, NYY 2013)
"Whether you’re from a different country or a different part of the country, he was just funny and nice to people."
Luke Voit (NYY 2018-19)
"Literally, he’s always smiling, always brining enthusiasm."
"I played with him at Double A and I saw him last week. It’s 19 years later, and he’s a future Hall of Famer, and he’s the exact same dude as when I played with him in Double-A."
Jordan Montgomery (NYY 2017-19)
"He treats everyone the same. I’ve heard stories about how he was treated as a rookie. And he’s like, 'I’m going to make sure that rookies don’t ever feel the way I felt.'"
Ellis Burks (CLE 2001-03)
"There were definitely some guys that were going to give a rookie a hard time. Old-school guys had that mentality. I don’t think CC took it the wrong way, but he learned from that experience. He just kept his mouth shut, did his job, and he did it so well that he earned the respect not only from those guys but from everybody in the organization.
"Jim Rice told me a long time ago, 'Take care of the young kids and they’ll always remember that.' When I was a rookie, we went to Saks Fifth Avenue and he bought me four brand new suits. So I did the same thing for CC as Jim Rice did for me. And I’m sure he did it along his journey."
Austin Romine (NYY 2011-19)
"I didn’t own a suit, and he bought me my rookie suit. He just took care of guys and made sure they realize they’re part of this, part of something bigger."
Brett Gardner (NYY 2009-19)
"He came over here his first year in ’09 and he’s a superstar, and I’m kind of wondering if he’s even going to talk to me. But I remember getting very close to him very quickly."
"He just had this way of making you feel comfortable and part of the team right away. And that’s what this team in 2019 has adopted. We’ve had so many guys come through this clubhouse this year. We want everyone to feel comfortable as soon as possible so we can win games."
"I think 20 years ago the young guys had to prove themselves a little bit more to get included into the group. CC’s approach was as soon as those guys get up, have them be part of the group so they can feel more comfortable and play better rather than feeling isolated."
Didi Gregorius (NYY 2015-19)
"He’s always taking his time talking to the guys, show them the right way. That’s better than being a great teammate. That’s being a great leader."
"When he pitched, you always had that feeling like, 'We’ve got CC going, we’re going to win.' He was intense. He lifted up everybody’s game because you tried to match his competitiveness, too."
"There’s a genuine unselfishness about the way he plays the game. A lot of people give that lip service. He is that. It’s not about racking up accolades. It’s about going out and doing all he can to help his team win."
"From the outside, watching what he did in Milwaukee, that meant a lot to me as a competitor that this guy was willing to take the ball anytime they gave it to him."
Craig Counsell (MIL 2008)
"When he came into the clubhouse in 2008, it changed our room. He connects people. When you first meet him, you feel the humility come off him, and I think that’s what gets people drawn to him. Then when you start competing with him, you realize he will do absolutely anything for his teammates."
"He called me and said, 'I think I’m going to be traded.' He said, 'Man I would love to come there.' So I actually went up to Doug Melvin and said, 'CC wants to come here bad.' And then it all just fell in place."
Mike Cameron (MIL 2008)
"He’s a gentle giant, but he just brought this confidence every start. He brought this energy, this ferociousness. He connected the dots for everyone, like that piece we were missing in order to bring unity to the team and make us excel."
Jason Kendall (MIL 2008)
"He reminds me of — and I have no problem comparing these two — but when I was in Pittsburgh I was very fortunate to be around Willie Stargell. The presence he brought when he walked around was something special — smile on his face, say hello to everyone. Willie would do anything and everything for anybody. CC is the same way. But what CC did on the field, boy, was it something fun!
"He just carried everybody on his shoulders. And this was a man who was getting ready to get paid. He pitched on three days' rest three times knowing what was out there (financially). He didn’t care about a possible injury. He cared about getting the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs. He was a god in Milwaukee for those three months."
Andy Pettitte (NYY 2009-10, 2012-13)
"I hit it off with him immediately when he got with us. To see him come in and be the the dominant pitcher that he was, it pushed me."
Johnny Damon (NYY 2009)
"We had just missed the playoffs (in 2008), and he was going to be our No. 1 guy. He had control of the locker room. When he spoke we listened."
"He was a guy that accepted the challenge, accepted the responsibility of being a No. 1 starter in New York. The expectation people had on him was high, but his expectation level was even higher."
"That first year, there were a lot of changes in the Yankee culture. We all kind of chipped in, but he was the guy leading the charge."
AJ Burnett (NYY 2009-11)
"He made my transition easy from the get-go. He was so open and kind of more excited that I was there than he was there."
Mark Teixeira (NYY 2009-16)
"He was always the social director of the team. CC always seemed to find a basketball game, a concert, something on an off day to bring the guys together. Everyone was invited to everything that CC did. That was important. I thought that team was really close and part of the reason was, even though we had a bunch of new guys, it took somebody like CC to say: 'No more cliques. We’re all hanging out together.'"
"It seemed like a new, younger crowd, more of a social crowd than the older crew. They started doing fantasy football and a lot of stuff like that, which we didn’t do back in the day.
"That’s one of the things that made CC a fun teammate. And as an older player, I really enjoyed seeing that and seeing how excited guys got."
"We’d go over to his house, hang out, go to dinner on the road. It was like a family."
"When we were away from the field, that’s kind of where you wanted to be. You wanted to be over at CC’s house. We were going to talk baseball, our families were going to hang out. It wasn’t about separating as 25 players. CC carried that with him wherever he’s gone. It’s even harder in New York, and it happened.
"As a team, you looked forward to it. 'Where we going? CC’s having people over again? I’m there.'"
"Sometimes the plane would land, and he’d be like: 'Be down in the lobby in 30 minutes. We’re all going out to dinner.'
"When CC wants you to come out to dinner or wants to hang out with you, you’re like, ‘Absolutely!’ Of course you want to hang out with that guy."
Aaron Judge (NYY 2016-19)
"No matter how many times we try to take care of the bill, he’s already got it handled. He’s just that type of guy. Doesn’t matter about paying for anything, he just wants all of us to be together, keep creating that good chemistry."
"He just cares. And at the end of the day, he’s an unbelievable competitor. Obviously he’s got the 3,000 strikeouts and 250 wins, but he wants to win another World Series, and I think that’s the most important thing you can ask for out of a guy."
"He’s been battling with a lot of knee problems. He can barely walk out to the mound, but he can still go out there and pitch for us. He’s giving his whole body to this team. That’s what a true teammate is about."
"There’s never a “look how tough I am, look what I’m pitching through.'"
"He never made excuses. And trust me, his locker was next to mine, so I was right there next to him when he was doing interviews. He never made excuses, and I think teammates appreciate that. I know I did."
"He’s a leader, and he’s a warrior. He always wants to go out there and give us his best."
"He was someone that was there for all of his teammates. Anytime you were struggling or scuffling, CC was there to talk to."
"He was there through all my struggles. He never strayed no matter how bad it got. He was always there to throw confidence my way. 'Do you know how F'in good you are? You’re A.J. Burnett, and they wanted you for a reason.' It was those kind of things.
"In one of those years, he actually said that he felt bad, like he let me down because he couldn’t help me enough. He’s like: ‘Dude, we came in together, we signed together, we’re supposed to be here all these years together. In a way I feel kind of responsible as your teammate and as your friend.' He’s that kind of teammate."
"He checked in on me when I was hurt. Even when you lose confidence in yourself, he’s like, ‘Man, you’re good enough to be here.’ He’s said that to me plenty of times."
"He was one of the reasons why after I retired that I came back. Of course I had the relationships with the other (Core Four) guys. CC is cut out in that championship mold and all about winning. There’s nothing else on his radar other than winning. You wanna to pitch with those guys, you wanna to be around those guys. That’s what C did for me. It kind of gave me a shot in the arm and rejuvenated me late in my career."
"He can talk to anybody about anything. I used to always talk to him about hunting. He doesn’t want anything to do with hunting. But he’ll sit and be interested in your conversation because he cares."
"You just knew we were going to win the game every time he took the field. Even today, he may not be able to give you the seven, eight, nine innings that he used to, but don’t think that guy’s not still a competitor. He’s learned how to pitch even without the plus velocity."
Masahiro Tanaka (NYY 2014-19)
"You understand how big that transition is as a pitcher, and I have great respect for how he was able to go through that hard time. That’s an inspiration to me."
"Everybody sees it now, but people don’t realize — it was hard. It was a long two or three years, and it was a lot of heartache for him. He’s came through it, and I’m just so proud of him."
"He always has our back. Anytime there’s a brawl or any situation where things are about to happen, he’s the first one out of the dugout. He’s the first one there."
David Robertson (NYY 2009-14, 2017-18)
"He was in the bullpen for last year’s wild-card game. It sounds like a small thing, but it could have been his last game. You never know. He always wanted to do what was right for the team, and he knew that if he could go down to the bullpen and get one out to help us win a game, he would do it."
"The thing that he’s never lost, no matter what, is that as much as a ferocious competitor that he is — and he is a different person the day he pitches — he’s never lost teaching guys that 'Hey, this is a pretty good gig. Enjoy it and have fun.'"
"It’s just a gift that not many people have, being able to connect with a lot of different people. Sometimes we don’t associate ultra-competitive guys and successful people with humility, but that’s the rare trait that CC possesses."
"He’s how you draw it up. When he says that, about how he wants to be remembered, you believe it because he’s lived it."
"Everyone says you miss competing and playing, but I think he will miss being around his teammates more than anything."
"I still get a Christmas card from him. We played together for three months, and I know my family can’t wait to get the Sabathia Christmas card every year. I know it’s funny and trite and small, but that’s who CC is."
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN.