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  • CC Sabathia Made the Most of His Brief Time in Milwaukee

    Reilly McShane

    When CC Sabathia arrived in Milwaukee in early July of 2008, he didn’t say, “Get on my back. I’m carrying this club.” But he may as well have done so. Sabathia had one of the greatest half-seasons of baseball in club history. Over 17 starts, he was an absolute workhorse - carrying the Brewers into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. It was a magical - if short-lived - time for Brewer fans.

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    Carsten Charles Sabathia - aka CC - was born in Vallejo, California, in 1980. He was an outstanding high school athlete, receiving scholarship offers to play football and baseball. But professional baseball was Sabathia’s path after being selected in the 1st round (20th overall) by the Cleveland Guardians in the 1998 draft. 

    CC Sabathia moved quickly through Cleveland's minor league system - skipping AAA ball - and heading to the majors after only three seasons. He won 17 games as a 20-year-old rookie - and went on to anchor Cleveland’s rotation for the next seven and a half years. He was named to three All-Star teams and won the 2007 AL Cy Young award.

    However, the 2008 Guardians struggled to a 37-46 record through June of that season, causing speculation that Sabathia - who was scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season - would be dealt. Cleveland was, after all, a small market team and didn’t want to lose Sabathia for simple draft compensation. 

    And thus, on July 8, Cleveland shocked the baseball world by dealing the big lefthander. Many had expected the Guardians to trade Sabathia at the deadline - and to a big market club. But the Brewers stepped up to the plate - offering a package of Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson, and Rob Bryson. LaPorta - a power-hitting first baseman - was considered the big prize for Cleveland.

    The Brewers were 50-40 at the time of the trade, and General Manager Doug Melvin saw Sabathia as the missing ingredient to getting Milwaukee back into the playoffs. 

    The result was a glorious three months for the Brewers and their success-starved fans and Sabathia was at the center of it all. In that time, he started 17 games, won 11 of them, tossed 130.2 innings, seven complete games, three shutouts, and even hit a solid .229 with a home run. 

    The apex of Sabathia’s season was on September 28, 2008. It was the year's final game, and Sabathia took the ball on four days' rest with the Brewers' season on the line. The result was a 3-1 Brewer victory over the Cubs, with Sabathia going all nine innings while surrendering only four hits. The Brewers clinched the wild card spot about an hour later when the Mets lost - sending the blue and gold confetti down from Miller Park’s rafters to the cheers of tens of thousands of fans who had stayed to watch the Mets-Marlins game on the stadium Jumbotron.

    The author of this article was at that magical game - and can attest that it was one of the most exhilarating moments in Brewer history. 
    CC Sabathia had come to Milwaukee and carried the club into the playoffs for the first time since 1982. 

    Sadly, that was the end of the Brewers' run that season. The Crew lost to Philadelphia in the playoffs, Sabathia losing his only start. 

    And that ended CC Sabathia’s short but memorable, run in Milwaukee. While fans hoped Sabathia would return to the club, most everyone knew the man was set on free agency. The result was a big deal with the New York Yankees. Sabathia spent 11 seasons in the Bronx - maintaining his dominating ways for the first four years with the club. He was named to three more All-Star teams and MVP of the 2009 ALCS. That same year, Sabathia won a World Series. 

    Unfortunately, injuries, wear and tear, and other health issues - including a battle with drinking - eroded Sabathia’s skills, and he went from a dominant pitcher to a solid one for the rest of his career. He retired after the 2019 season, finishing with 251 wins and 61.8 bWAR - which may get him in the Hall of Fame someday. 

    Since retiring from baseball, Sabathia has been heavily involved in charity work and has a podcast with sportscaster Ryan Ruocco.

    It is hard to imagine how critical CC Sabathia was to the Brewers in 2008. The club had missed out on the playoffs for more than a quarter of a century - and the fans were desperate to get back into postseason play. That would not have been possible without Sabathia’s monumental achievements of that summer. 

    And while Sabathia did leave after the season, hardly anyone begrudged the man the opportunity. He had given his heart, soul, and body to the team - and to this day, fans are grateful for that impressive run. 

    In the end, some argue the deal for Sabathia was for naught. We didn’t even win a playoff series - much less a World Series. And the cost was high - and not because we gave up one of the game’s top prospects - Matt LaPorta - who turned out to be a bust. No, one of the extra guys in the deal - Michael Brantley - turned out to be an All-Star. Brantley has gone on to be a five-time All-Star - and a career .298 hitter. 

    No matter, CC Sabathia’s brief run in Milwaukee was a fantastic time in Brewer history. And it may have been Sabathia’s greatest stint in his remarkable career - which is saying a lot. 

    Please share your memories of former Brewer pitcher CC Sabathia.

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    Baseball was a very different world not all that long ago. As mentioned in the article, Sabathia started 17 games for the Brewers.

    He went seven or more innings in 13 of those starts. 

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