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CC Sabathia has found success as an MLB broadcaster, thanks to his genuine love for the modern game

Jun 05, 2023Jun 05, 2023

As New York Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt begins his windup, MLB Network analyst and former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young makes a prediction: "He gone go deep, yo." An instant later, Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani barrels up a sweeper that catches too much of the plate and sends it flying.

CC Sabathia grimaces, knowing that Schmidt missed his spot in this April 18 matchup. After celebrating the home run and Young's prediction, Sabathia shares an anecdote about going to a game as a fan to watch Ohtani. He then explains how he would've attacked Ohtani in a 2-0 count. Forty seconds into the clip, it's abundantly clear that Sabathia is good at this.

That wasn't a guarantee. Players who transition into broadcasting after their playing days end are a mixed bag. Some have trouble explaining the intricacies of the game, some sound too rehearsed and struggle with the camera, and others spend their airtime telling you the game was better back when they played.

That's not Sabathia's style. He's still enthusiastic about baseball, despite its changes, and he takes genuine pleasure from seeing today's superstars pull off incredible feats on the field.

"I love the modern ballplayer," Sabathia told Yahoo Sports. "So having a chance to watch these guys up close and still be part of the game is fun for me."

Sabathia isn't a typical baseball broadcaster. He doesn't normally appear in the booth and provide color commentary. He's more reactionary and conversational, which is why MLB Network brought him on board for its MLB Tonight: Clubhouse Edition broadcasts starting in 2021. The broadcasts are looser and meant to simulate the organic conversations players might have in the dugout during games.

It helps that those broadcasts play to his strengths. Sabathia is unabashedly himself. He made headlines in 2021 for going on a profane tirade against then-Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa. You won't hear nearly as much profanity on MLB Network, but you’re still getting the real Sabathia.

"It's his authenticity," Young said. "As a former teammate, being able to see him on the media side, he's literally the same person as he was in the clubhouse. The conversations you hear on MLB Network from CC are the same ones we would have before games, hanging out."

That's a refreshing perspective from a baseball broadcaster. More than other sports, baseball romanticizes its past. Fans sometimes bristle when Mike Trout gets compared to Mickey Mantle. For a long time, it seemed blasphemous to mention Shohei Ohtani and Babe Ruth in the same sentence. It can sometimes feel as though you’re not allowed to appreciate today's superstars unless you pay adequate respect to yesterday's greats. Unfortunately, those sentiments can make their way into broadcast booths.

For his part, Sabathia had every reason to go down the negative track. Although he played as recently as 2019, he is already a throwback. He excelled in part thanks to his durability, amassing huge innings totals, consistently exceeding 100 pitches per start and taking the ball on short rest when his team needed it. Pitchers aren't asked to do that anymore.

Instead of bemoaning the fact or criticizing starting pitchers today for being coddled, Sabathia believes they are still the key to winning the World Series.

"They build bullpens now, where starters don't need to go deep into the game," he said. "But you look at whose been winning the World Series and whose been going deep into the playoffs the past however many years — it's always the team with the best starters."

He also likes what the pitch timer has done for the game and believes he would've had no problem adjusting to it, had it been implemented while he was still playing.

That willingness to embrace change and adapt to the modern game is what separates Sabathia as a broadcaster. When he rattles off the reasons he continues to be interested in baseball in 2023, you believe him.

"I think the players are probably the best they’ve ever been," he said. "Bigger, faster, stronger. Guys that throw it harder than they ever have. Hitting the balls harder."

Sabathia — along with Young and Siera Santos — will be part of the MLB Tonight: Clubhouse Edition broadcast Thursday, when the Houston Astros take on the Toronto Blue Jays. When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. steps to the mound, you can bet Sabathia will either regale fans with a story about what it's like to face Guerrero or wax poetic about his immense power at the plate.

Whatever response Sabathia gives, fans can be sure it will be authentic.