SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
CC Sabathia had a renowned baseball career - six-time All-Star who won titles and championships with the New York Yankees, Cleveland and Milwaukee Brewers and the all-time left-handed American League leader in strikeouts. But even during some of his best days, CC Sabathia also used to sometimes drink himself into a stupor and pass out, drunk and naked. He tells the story of some of his best and lowest moments in the new book "Till The End." His co-author is Chris Smith. CC Sabathia joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.
CC SABATHIA: Oh, no problem.
SIMON: First sentence of your book, you call yourself a weird alcoholic. How so, sir?
SABATHIA: Just because, you know, I could detox myself. I could go, you know, a couple days drinking, and, you know, I could take two days off and be able to pitch, and then I would start it all over. So I had a pretty good cycle going. So that's why I said it was weird.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, we want to talk about that, but I also want to talk about baseball and other aspects of your life because you were marked for athletic success at an early age. For all the blessings that's given you in life, was it a hard way to grow up sometimes?
SABATHIA: No, not really. I mean, that's what I wanted to do. You know, that was always my dream was to play sports. And the expectations - you know, it came from the outside, obviously, but a lot of the expectations came from within. You know, there was never any more pressure that anybody can put on me than I put on myself.
SIMON: Yeah. You trash talked an imaginary friend when you were a kid (laughter)?
SABATHIA: Yeah. Yeah, I had imaginary friends. So I grew up an only child, and I did a lot of different things that people didn't want to do. You know, like I wanted to play baseball all the time. Everything was about sports. And a lot of my cousins, you know, didn't want to do that. So I had to make up somebody to play with.
SIMON: I got to tell you, one of the most memorable characters in the book is your high school coach, Coach Hobbs. Can I get you to talk about him?
SABATHIA: Yeah. Coach Hobbs - you know, I got a chance to meet him at 14 years old, and it just really changed my life. He was a guy that just really took an interest in me and my friends and my friend group. And he had such a huge impact on not just me, but all of us.
SIMON: And he told you about Jackie Robinson.
SABATHIA: Yeah. He was the one that would - always stressed to me about Jackie Robinson, different guys in the Negro Leagues or just guys that I should know being a Black baseball player. He was always telling me that I'm going to need to know these players, know these things. And so he was the one that really started me to learn about the Negro Leagues.
SIMON: When you were so famous and so many people expect things of you and see you as a figure of strength, is it hard to ask for help?
SABATHIA: You know what? It was just scary to ask for help, to be honest, just not knowing what the help would look like, you know? I mean, I think I knew I needed help. I just didn't know if that was going to be taking time away from the team, how public that would be. So that was things that I was thinking about the couple years leading up to me going to rehab. You know, by the time that I checked myself in, I was just tired. I didn't care what anybody thought, what it looked like or any of that. I was just trying to get myself right.
SIMON: In rehab, you were asked to write a letter to someone in your life, and you took a tough assignment and made it tougher. Can you tell us about that letter you wrote to your son, whom you call Little C?
SABATHIA: Yeah. So in the first couple weeks of rehab, we had an assignment to write a letter to a person that you miss, you know, from alcohol. And I was writing a letter as Little C, you know, writing to me. And I got halfway through the letter, and I figure out it's me writing a letter to my dad, you know, about all the things that I missed about him and...
SABATHIA: ...You know, all the things that he's missed out on and, you know, our relationship. So that's what kind of, like, snapped me out of everything. It was, you know, just like a lightbulb went off and I got a chance to, you know, say everything that I need to say to my dad 'cause I didn't ever really get a chance to mourn. And once I, you know, got that off my chest, I feel like, in rehab, you know, I was able to just think clearly and felt like I had a good chance of staying sober.
SIMON: We should explain your father would disappear and come back in your life.
SABATHIA: Yeah, yeah. My parents got divorced when I was 12, and then my dad left. And I think when I was 14 to 17, we probably saw each other two or three times in that time.
SIMON: How are you doing today, Mr. Sabathia?
SABATHIA: I'm good today. I get a chance to hang out with my kids. You know, my daughters are dancers. My - you know, my little son plays baseball. So, you know, to get a chance to be able to be Dad and hang out at home, it's a lot of fun. And to be able to do it sober and, you know, with a clear mind is great.
SIMON: There are people hearing us today who might be in trouble with drink the way you were. What should they know?
SABATHIA: I think that, you know, everybody's rock bottom is different. You know, you don't have to, you know, have a DUI or a court order or whatever. You know, you could just literally be tired of being alcohol-dependent to go get help. And I think the hardest thing about facing alcohol addiction or dependency is saying that you can't, you know, fight this thing along. And once you do that, you know, there are so many different avenues to help you out.
SIMON: But you've got to do it, right? You've got to decide to do it.
SABATHIA: Yeah. There's people that can talk you through it, but there's nobody that can do the work. You know, you have to do the work yourself, sure.
SIMON: CC Sabathia - his book, "Till The End." Thanks so much for being with us, sir.
SABATHIA: Oh, no problem.
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