Till the End by CC Sabathia with Chris Smith
Okay, let me get this out of the way at the start. I love baseball. And, I hate the New York Yankees. Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia is one of the players who epitomizes why my dislike of that franchise is so strong. Arrogant, talented, entitled and – as long as he performed well – untouchable. Which is why I was surprised at myself when I picked up a copy of his autobiography, Till the End.
A Real Athlete
Did reading about the man change my mind with how I felt about him? No, not really. But what it did do was give me a deeper understanding of what it is like to be an elite athlete in a sport that I have followed for decades. And that is why I am recommending Till the End this MLB playoff week.
Carston Charles “CC” Sabathia was born and raised in Vallejo, California, a gritty blue-collar town situated between the far more glamorous city of San Francisco and Napa Valley. His family came from New Orleans; before that, Haiti. He was big, blunt, and aggressive, wearing his competitive heart on his sleeve, excelling in not only baseball but football and basketball as well. He graduated from high school in 1998 and went directly into the minor leagues. By 2001, at age 20, he became the youngest player in the Major Leagues, starting his career with the (then) Cleveland Indians. He played for the Indians for seven years, then one year with Milwaukee Brewers. For the rest of his 19-year career, he played for the New York Yankees.
Detailing His Addictions
Sabathia was also, for much of his life, an alcoholic. A good portion of his autobiography deals with how that addiction affected him, in his life, his outlook, in his personal relationships as well as his baseball career. He is open with the factors that played into his alcoholism – genetics, yes, but also family strife and the social burdens of growing up Black and poor in America. Also contributing to his addiction was his anxiety and the emotional dichotomy of being incredibly confident of his abilities as well as harboring a chasm-deep fear of letting everyone in his life down. Sabathia does not try to make himself a sympathetic hero. That, I believe is the saving grace of his story – while it may be beyond the reader’s empathy, it still is unapologetically honest, defiant of any judgment.
Behind the Curtain
Also, without being exploitive, Till the End pulls the curtain back on some of what goes on in the clubhouse and on the field before, during, and after MLB games. While at times even I, an ardent fan, would get distracted by the technical talk about pitching, mechanics, and metrics, the sometimes pitch-by-pitch replay of seminal games, still, it must be acknowledged that this is part of Sabathia’s world, and as environment, it is intriguing.
I’ve always believed baseball to be a very human game, and glimpsing Sabathia’s world reinforced that for me. While player attitudes could be petty and childish, cocky and bigoted, the focus was always to come together as a team – as a family, even – to achieve together what individually each could not. A player’s personal failures could be tolerated – ignored, even – as long as he did not let down his teammates. It’s not always a pretty picture, but it’s a genuine one.
And that is why I’m recommending Till the End. Great literature, it is not. Great subject? Eye of the beholder. Interesting perspective? Yes. And unapologetically honest, even in its banality, even in its egoism, and yes, even in its sincerity and joy. That in and of itself makes for good reading. Peanuts and crackerjacks optional.