Monday, October 31, 2011 Updated: November 1, 9:12 PM ET
CC-Yankees marriage was worth saving
By Ian O'Connor ESPNNewYork.com
Had CC Sabathia filed for divorce from the New York Yankees, even Kim Kardashian would have declared it a silly, impetuous call. Some celebrity marriages are actually worth saving, and the big man understood why he could not tell the big city he would CC-you later.
The Yankees upgraded the balance of Sabathia's $161 million contract, turning four years and $92 million into five years and $122 million and a shot at earning a sixth year and a grand sum of $142 million.
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So of course it's about the money. Nine-figure settlements usually are.
But Sabathia might have signed a more lucrative deal somewhere else, and people on both sides of the negotiating table knew it. Left-handed aces who are willing to work on two days' rest, never mind three, don't need a cover letter when seeking employment.
That's why this confirmation of vows had plenty to do with mutual affection, if not unmitigated love. Sabathia adores New York, and New York adores him back. There was no good reason to call this game on account of hubris and greed.
Unlike Alex Rodriguez, whose cop-out of an opt-out in the middle of the 2007 World Series inflicted unnecessary harm on his already damaged reputation, Sabathia dodged the public relations hit. The pitcher just landed the kind of executive raise that could incite a Wall Street protest, and yet he'll be praised for surrendering the chance to fatten his bank account even more.
Smart move. Very, very smart. The Yanks knew they could afford to give Sabathia the extra loot they're giving him, and Sabathia knew he could afford to surrender the extra millions he might've secured from a raiding team on the open market, or from a Yankees management team frightened by free agency and the prospect of a 2012 rotation without its most reliable arm.
Remember, Hank Steinbrenner handed A-Rod $305 million, including $30 million in home run legacy bonuses, after the humiliated slugger put Scott Boras on the bench, begged the Yanks for forgiveness, and resumed bargaining with virtually no leverage.
CC Sabathia couldn't hold back, saying Monday he wanted to be a Yankee all along.
A safe bet says the House of Steinbrenner would've caved had Sabathia returned from the recruiting trail with a serious offer from, say, the Texas Rangers.
It never came to that. Monday night, after tweeting his congratulations to Tony La Russa for "going out on top," Sabathia again took to Twitter with news that hit New Yorkers closer to home.
"Yankee fans," the tweet said, "I'll be here fighting for number 28 next year!"
Not a $28 million option, he meant. A 28th World Series title.
In his posted video, Sabathia wished everyone a Happy Halloween, thanked the Steinbrenners for their tricks and treats, and told his followers, "My goal the whole time is to be able to finish my career as a Yankee, and hopefully I can do that. We seemed like we got that accomplished today."
On a later conference call with reporters, Sabathia sounded positively giddy over this turn of events. "My son loves it here," he said, "all my kids love it here. My wife loves it here, obviously, and I do too. I love pitching for the Yankee fans and everything, so it was the easy choice."
But during the conference call, Sabathia fibbed at least twice. Fib No. 1: "It was never a question about more money," he said. "It was just [securing] more time." Again, you can't turn a $92 million guarantee into a $122 million guarantee and then claim money wasn't an issue.
Fib No. 2: Sabathia maintained he wasn't hesitant to sign on with the Yankees after the 2008 season. General manager Brian Cashman is on record saying he needed "to be John Calipari" on his visit to Sabathia's California home, and needed to overpay for his services and include the fateful three-year opt-out in the seven-year deal because the free agent was concerned about pitching in New York and about dealing with the A-Rod-Derek Jeter dynamic.
"CC's main concern was our clubhouse, and how people got along," Cashman has said. "We had a reputation for not being together. We had a reputation of fighting each other, and that was a big concern there.
"I told him the truth. 'Yeah, we are broken. One reason we're committing [$161 million] to you is you're a team builder. We need somebody to bring us all together.'"
Sabathia bought the pitch, and proved Cashman to be a prophet. His neighborly demeanor helped ease old tensions in the new Stadium clubhouse, and his durable left arm helped end a biblical (by Yankees standards) championship drought.
Beyond the ballfield, Sabathia became a fixture at Knicks games, Nets games, Jets games. He became the de facto mayor of Alpine, N.J., hosting this local event and showing up at that one.
"This is our home," Sabathia said. "We continue to grow here and be a part of the community."
Yes, as a big-time athlete who doesn't make a habit of big-timing others, Sabathia's been a credit to his franchise and his profession. But the relationship between employee and employer hasn't been perfect. Sabathia put on far too much weight last year, and failed to deliver in the playoffs.
He agreed Monday night that he needs to lose some pounds, again, meaning his beloved Cap'n Crunch breakfasts have to be retired for keeps. But for the sake of his career and his standing in the game, dropping the opt-out clause means as much as dropping the weight.
In a harsh economic climate -- outside the fantasy world of the ballyard, anyway -- Sabathia didn't have the appetite for the biggest possible financial kill. He convinced the Yankees to give him a few more nickels than the Phillies gave his best bud, Cliff Lee (five years, $120 million), and kissed his free-agent options goodbye.
On a tough day for celebrity marriages, Sabathia and the Yankees scored a sensible victory for home, sweet home.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday, 9-11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.