CLEVELAND -- CC Sabathia never pulled a LeBron James, ditching Cleveland for more posh pastures. Sabathia is quick to note that he was traded by the Tribe. He was dealt to a contending Brewers club in July 2008 for a package of prospects, signaling the beginning of the dismantling of the 2007 Indians team that fell a game shy of the World Series. It was months after his Cleveland career came to a close that Sabathia signed on with the hated Yankees through a seven-year, $161 million contract -- the largest deal ever signed by a pitcher. So CC never had the press conference announcing his exit from the organization that drafted and groomed him, and thus never had to be accused of leaving his adopted "hometown" for bigger bucks and more stature elsewhere.
Hence, Sabathia, who makes his second career start in an opponent's uniform at Progressive Field on Tuesday night, never had to face the wrath of the Cleveland fan base, the way others (read: Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez) did. "I definitely think that helped," Sabathia said Monday. "I've seen guys that come back ... like when Thome came back. It was unbelievable that he got booed. But it kinda was what it was. Since I got traded, that helped me out a little bit." The trade, of course, only delayed the inevitable, as it was Sabathia who broke off contract negotiations with the Indians in Spring Training 2008. Through that action, Sabathia made it clear that he intended to explore the open market in the winter that followed the '08 season. And as his eventual contract with the Yanks proved, the Indians' most earnest extension proposal -- reported at the time to be worth between $17 million and $18 million a year, through 2012 -- would have been dwarfed. Sabathia, though, claims no such proposal was discussed. "They didn't offer me a contract," he said. "They never offered me anything, so there was nothing to ever turn down." Both general manager Mark Shapiro and former manager Eric Wedge went on the record in the winter before the '08 season to say an offer had been made and that it was the largest contract ever offered to an Indians player. Either that was untrue, or Sabathia has revised history. When told of Sabathia's remark, Shapiro had no comment. "Just nothing good out of engaging in that," Shapiro e-mailed. "Only have the highest regard for CC as a man and a pitcher."
|"I definitely feel bad that we were pretty close [to winning a title] and didn't do it. We had a pretty good team, and it would have been pretty special if we could have won a championship. Especially since we were all homegrown. It was a pretty special team."|
|-- CC Sabathia|
And fans here still have that high regard, too, because Sabathia never officially turned his back on them. He turns all blame for the breaking up of the '07 team to the Indians' decision-makers. "We were all traded," said Sabathia, referring to the likes of Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Casey Blake, Rafael Betancourt and several others. "Everybody was willing to be a part of the organization and stay. That's something they chose was to go the other way. I don't think we are anything similar to what [LeBron] went through." Sabathia and James became acquaintances during their shared Cleveland tenure. And Sabathia knows as well as anyone how LeBron leaving was like a dagger to the heart of Cleveland sports fans. "This is a big sports town," he said. "I do feel bad." Yet Sabathia also knows that, in the end, James did what he felt was best for his career and his bid to win a title. Sabathia made the same decision in the winter of '08. Though he denied ever turning down an extension offer from the Indians, he admitted that, over the winter of '08, he had his mind made up that he would leave Cleveland. "That offseason, I realized [an extension with the Indians] probably wasn't going to happen," Sabathia said. "So maybe the '07 season was the last time I thought I might stay here for the rest of my career." Just more than two years removed from that realization, Sabathia said he barely recognizes the Indians, and therefore doesn't feel any extra emotion in facing them here in his former home. "I only know three people on that team," he said. "It's not like I've got a lot of friends over there. Jake [Westbrook], [Travis] Hafner and [Shin-Soo] Choo. Grady [Sizemore] is not even here right now. It just feels like coming to another place to play." Strangely, in that discussion, Sabathia omitted the name of Fausto Carmona, the guy who joined him in winning 19 games for the 2007 Tribe. But the details clearly don't matter to Sabathia nearly as much as his general sentiment toward his 7 1/2-year stay here and the way it ended. "I definitely feel bad that we were pretty close [to winning a title] and didn't do it," Sabathia said. "We had a pretty good team, and it would have been pretty special if we could have won a championship. Especially since we were all homegrown. It was a pretty special team."