CC Sabathia has yet to meet George Steinbrenner, but he believes he's ready for the pressure cooker that he'll encounter as the New York Yankees' new ace.
Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the
Yankees last month, leaving the smaller markets of Milwaukee and
Cleveland to find himself right in the middle of baseball's biggest
spotlight. He'll report to spring training next month, and then
he'll really get to find out what being a Yankee is all about.
"If you ask anybody in my family or anybody that knows me, I
don't think there's any outside pressure that could be put on me
that I don't put on myself," Sabathia said Saturday night before
being honored with the Warren Spahn Award. "I put an enormous
amount of pressure on myself to go out there and perform and expect
to win every game, expect to pitch well in every game.
"I think having the guys in New York - the A-Rods and the
Jeters and these great players, and Tex - I think it will help me
be a better player."
Sabathia joins Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira -
the Yankees' latest free-agent splurge with an eight-year, $180
million deal - on an enormous payroll that reads like an All-Star
roster. The signings of Sabathia, Teixeira and A.J. Burnett this
offseason despite a slumping economy prompted some owners,
including Milwaukee's Mark Attanasio, to complain this week that
baseball might need to have a hard salary cap.
"All I'm going to say is I'm excited to be on a big-market team
and to be able to get where we need to win and know that the
organization's going to do that every year, year in and year out,"
Sabathia said. "That feels good."
Sabathia won the Spahn Award for the second straight year as
baseball's top left-handed pitcher after leading the Brewers to the
playoffs for the first time since 1982. After Cleveland sent him to
Milwaukee in a midseason trade, Sabathia went 11-2 and threw seven
of his league-best 10 complete games.
Before Saturday night's ceremony, he said he's looking forward
to having Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera there to close out
games for him, and he's already talked to Chamberlain about it.
"To have that bullpen and have just the support of that team,
that team is unbelievable," Sabathia said. "To add me and A.J and
put Tex in that lineup, I think it's going to be an unbelievable
team. Hopefully we have a special year."
Sabathia said he probably wouldn't meet Steinbrenner
face-to-face until spring training, but talked to him on the phone
and "he just congratulated me and told me he was happy for me to
be a part of the family."
How that family comes together is of great interest to Sabathia.
He believes a relaxed Brewers clubhouse helped foster his success
last season in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Yankees had a streak of 13
straight playoff appearances snapped.
"That's what I'm looking for. That's a thing that I'm big on is
having great team chemistry, and hopefully we can get that in New
York," Sabathia said.
Sabathia said he's already used to having a target on his back
after being successful in Cleveland and then with the Brewers, and
he's prepared to feel the same way in New York. Even the prospect
of facing Red Sox fans doesn't faze him.
"I'm sure it's going to be a little more harsh, but they're
tough anyway. Being in a Cleveland uniform, they were tough,"
Sabathia said. "I'm looking forward to them being even tougher, me
being in a Yankee uniform and hearing some rude things."
Sabathia also spoke of his childhood days playing T-ball, when
he wouldn't have been eligible for the Spahn Award.
"I started out playing right-handed," Sabathia said. "I was
throwing right-handed, I was hitting right-handed and I was like
the worst kid out there."
Sabathia recalled playing first base and reaching down for a
ground ball that wound up hitting him in the chest. About a week
later, his dad brought home a new glove so he could play
left-handed. The rest is history.
"I like to have fun when I'm playing. That's one thing, I
think, that makes me successful is that I do have fun and I take it
as a game," Sabathia said. "I'm still like a 12-year-old kid out
Only five players have won the Spahn Award in its 10 years of
existence. After Randy Johnson won it the first four years, other
winners have included Andy Pettitte (2003), Johan Santana (2004 and
2006) and Dontrelle Willis (2005).
The trophy is a bronze statue of Spahn, the Oklahoma native who
leads all left-handers with 363 career victories. He died in 2003.
"It is a great way to honor my dad's memory, and we're tickled
to death to have CC back here again this year," said Greg Spahn,
Warren's son. "I've challenged him to come back for a third one,
and we hope we can see that happen."