- Former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia suffered from alcoholism before checking into rehab in 2015.
- Sabathia began drinking as a teen, but his habits escalated when he reached the big leagues.
- Now he has a message for young athletes dealing with the same struggles that he did.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
CC Sabathia remembers the night he hit rock bottom.
The former New York Yankees pitcher had just been drenched in champagne days earlier after leading the team to a playoff berth in his final start of 2015.
Then, during New York’s final regular-season series against the Baltimore Orioles, 22 years of binge drinking culminated in a life-changing moment.
“It was being in a hotel room in Baltimore, not being able to stop drinking,” Sabathia told Insider. “Literally telling myself, ‘I can’t have another drink,’ and still going back to my mini-bar and pouring more Hennessy.”
“That was rock bottom for me. It wasn’t getting a DUI. It wasn’t getting in trouble or court orders. I definitely had my run-ins, and I definitely could have gotten in trouble or lost my life, but none of those things fazed me. It was me not being able to stop.”
One day after the regular season ended, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman announced that Sabathia would leave the team for immediate alcohol rehabilitation and miss the postseason appearance he helped clinch a week year.
Cashman made the announcement in front of a collage of Budweiser logos.
-Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) October 5, 2015
MLB’s partnerships with alcohol promoters simply couldn’t be separated from the announcement of a star player’s alcoholism. It was just business as usual for baseball.
Life in the big leagues conditioned Sabathia to binge drink
Sabathia’s relationship with alcohol started years before he threw a major league pitch.
“I started drinking when I was 14,” Sabathia said. “My grandfather had just passed away. My cousin got killed. My parents split up. And the very first night I drank, I didn’t think about none of that stuff, and I was like ‘ahh, this is great!”
Sabathia’s athletic talent enabled him to maintain that dependence while excelling in sports.
He was a three-sport star athlete at Vallejo High School in California, particularly strong in baseball. He became Baseball America’s top high school prospect in Northern California in 1998, and Cleveland drafted him in the first round of that year’s MLB Draft.
Sabathia quickly worked his way up through Cleveland’s minor league system, making his MLB debut in 2001.
But his drinking only escalated from there.
“It’s just the culture of baseball,” Sabathia said. “When I got to the big leagues, it was like ‘yeah, this is what you’re supposed to do. Yeah, you’re supposed to pitch a good game and then go out and have a couple drinks. Then you get up, sweat it all out tomorrow, and go drink again tomorrow night!'”
Over the next 15 years, Sabathia established himself as a six-time All-Star, a Cy Young winner in 2007, and a World Series Champion in 2009.
So for him, there was no incentive to change.
“It was all normalized. I didn’t think I was dependent on alcohol. I’m living a normal big-league life,” Sabathia said. “I’m out here handling my business, but then at night, I do what I do. Nobody’s going to question what I’m doing at night if I come out here and handle my business on the field.”
Sabathia is nearly six years sober and has a message for young athletes struggling with addiction
Sabathia hasn’t touched alcohol since his rock bottom night in 2015 and is launching an alcohol dependency program, “My Relationship With Alcohol,” to help other individuals looking to get sober.
“I think alcohol dependency is prevalent amongst anybody that has a high-stress job,” Sabathia said. “Alcohol is such a big part of our culture.”
Sabathia is far from the first baseball star to suffer personal consequences from alcoholism.
Yankees legend Mickey Mantle suffered severe liver damage from years of alcohol abuse. He succumbed to an early death at the age of 63 from liver cancer, which doctors attributed to his drinking habits, according to a 1995 New York Times article.
Now, Sabathia has a message for the next generation of athletes dealing with addiction in hopes of helping them avoid the consequences that he and other MLB stars have been dealt.
“You know that you have a problem and get some help right now,” Sabathia said. “Try to curb it now because you know it’s all good now, but things happen in life. And as you get older, that alcohol dependency can turn into something bad, so get some help now.”