As a New York Yankees fan, I remember feeling dismayed when the formidable fastball player Carsten Charles (CC) Sabathia Jr. signed up for rehab early in the 2015 playoffs. Couldn’t he have waited for November? I’m ashamed to remember it now, and any fan reading “Till the End” could too.
Beautifully rendered with the help of journalist Chris Smith, “Till the End” opens, in a drama, during the last weekend of the 2015 season. CC gets lost on the team bus to the airport and continues to drink on a flight from New York to Baltimore, then on the bus into town. Upon arriving at the Four Seasons hotel, he hit the minibar and continued his frenzy: beer, wine, whiskey, tequila and his go-to, “Henny” (Hennessy). When this was emptied, he called room service. Then he ordered a cousin to bring him more.
When he arrived at Camden Yards on Sunday morning, the 325-pound, 6-foot-7 pitcher – a veteran of three surgeries and “hundreds of hangovers” – was belligerent and desperate. He continued to pour drinks, conveniently hidden in a stadium storage room. And then, half an hour before he was scheduled to warm up in the pen, he realized he couldn’t do it. He walked into Director Joe Girardi’s office and asked to be removed from the active list. It was his bravest pitch.
“Till the End” is more than a tale of alcoholism. There are plenty of heartwarming baseball moments, from Yankee Stadium to silence when Derek Jeter broke his ankle in a CC playoff game recording his 3,000th strikeout (one of three left-handers to achieve this. Mark). But the driving story is the emotional turmoil that drove Sabathia to Girardi’s office, and it started young. Raised in Vallejo, Calif., A working-class town north of Oakland, CC had his first drink at age 14 and found it relaxed. “So I started drinking more and hiding it.”
Why did he drink? He was socially awkward and drinking made the awkwardness go away. He didn’t understand why his father had left the house, and although his father reappeared occasionally, there were too many times CC looked up in the stands and couldn’t find him – and no one talked about it. And the ‘hood was full of trouble.