The 2001 Cleveland Indians were an odd bunch.
They were the tail end of the ‘90s powerhouse Indians, with enough offense to knock a team silly, but not enough pitching to back up a deep playoff run.
Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Charles Nagy, Omar Vizquel, and others from the Tribe’s glory days were still there, but it wouldn’t be long before the band was broken up and a new wave of talent — with varying levels of success — would push the Indians into a new millennium.
One of those new faces was pitcher CC Sabathia, who was fast-tracked to the majors three years after being selected by the Indians in the first round of the 1998 Amateur Draft.
Sabathia debuted as a 20-year-old in 2001 and threw 180.1 innings for the Indians as a rookie, the second-most on the team behind The Ageless Wonder, Bartolo Colon, and his 222.1 innings pitched.
It would be several year before CC turned himself into a consistent dominating force in the majors, but surely such a promising young talent debuting so early would garner some respect in the clubhouse, right? Well, no. This was the age of rookies being humiliated and dragged through the mud by entitled veterans who wanted to toughen up the newbies.
It was a bullshit practice then, and it’s mostly gone now. Thankfully.
In a recent post on The Athletic, Sabathia reflected on his time in Cleveland while he discussed shaping the current New York Yankees core of young, prolific hitters debuting in their early 20s — much like Sabathia himself 17 years ago.
“You didn’t feel welcome,” said veteran lefty CC Sabathia, who recalled breaking in with the Indians in 2001. “It was hard. I didn’t enjoy my first couple of years in the big leagues.”
That’s kind of heartbreaking for a big fun-loving guy like Sabathia to feel that way about his time with the Indians. Who knows? Maybe he puts up a sub-4.00 ERA in his first couple seasons if he isn’t always worried about committing trivial errors that tick off a power-hungry veteran player?
Something like, oh I don’t know, sitting on the wrong couch.
From that same Athletic post:
His first clubhouse had a comfortable couch in the middle of the room next to a large television. One day, he made the mistake of sitting on it, a grave offense that prompted a tongue-lashing from a veteran. It would be a few years before he could sit there without being hassled. He stifled his outsized personality, but resolved that if he were ever in position someday to set the culture, he would do things differently.
Sure, joking with a rookie with a few fun jabs might build team chemistry. Make them carry an extra backpack once in a while, whatever. But when you do that to the point of making a player feel unwelcome — like he’s a lesser person just because he’s new — that doesn’t help anybody. And I hope a lot of the veterans who did it feel a nice wave of warm shame when they see players like Sabathia talking about it.
Unlike most players in a bygone era, Sabathia was mistreated as a rookie and wanted to make sure the cycle didn’t continue, instead of harboring resentment and champing at the bit to take it out on the next group of potential stars. I was already a Sabathia fan before this, and this sort of cements it further — even if he using all this goodwill to fuel that team to greatness.
On the flip side, there’s a level of second-hand embarrassment knowing a team I loved was a bunch of assholes behind the scenes, just because somebody was new to the clubhouse. I’ve already had the pre-emptive talk with my kids heading into elementary school that they shouldn’t bully new kids (or anyone, for that matter).
It’s weird that grown adults never had the same talk.