Content warning: Alcoholism
One of the main things I took away from CC Sabathia’s memoir, Till the End, is that he is a very relatable person.
As a Midwestern, straight, white male of average build, I did not expect to relate much to a 6’ 6”, 300-lb Black man from Vallejo, California, who has earned millions and is likely a future Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. And truthfully, when you paint a picture of Sabathia in broad strokes there is little overlap in our stories. But that’s why people like Sabathia tell their stories and why we read them, to find that middle ground, to realize we’re more similar than we are different.
Many things in Sabathia’s upbringing–growing up an only child with a large extended family, loving sports, and having supportive parents–will be relatable to many readers. Chronologically, of course, it makes sense that this comes early in the book, but thematically it also helps to establish that credibility and bring the reader into his life and learn where he comes from. Which is important, because the opening passage of the book is pretty jarring.
The first sentence of Till the End is “I’m a weird alcoholic.” Starting the book in media res, not just in the middle of the story but at its lowest point, is a bold choice but one that pays off. Sabathia does not shy away from the hard stuff in this book, and that’s where I found real value in his memoir.
In the United States, 95,000 people die annually from alcohol-related deaths according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and other forms of addiction take countless more lives. Hardly a person among us has not had their life touched by addiction, and I am not exempt from this. At times it was hard to read Till the End, but Sabathia’s openness, his willingness to lay out all of his struggles and low points and personal failures, was very worthwhile.
Everyone who struggles with addiction goes through a personal struggle that is only theirs to face, but reading about Sabathia’s experience seems like the kind of thing that could be a great benefit to many people. He didn’t want treatment, didn’t think he had a problem, and didn’t want to let anyone–even those closest to him–know about his drinking until he lost control. But even then, he did not get help to become a Baseball Hall of Famer or even for his family: he did it because he wanted to live. Sabathia makes it clear that he did this for himself, he got clean so that he could live and experience all the beauty that comes from being alive. And if Till the End did nothing but reinforce this fact over its 275 pages, it would still be successful, because that is such an important lesson.
Of course, the book is not just about Sabathia’s path to addiction and back again, it’s also about his baseball career, and it delivers a great narrative for baseball fans. For us Cleveland fans specifically, Sabathia earnestly shares his love for the organization that drafted him and helped him develop into a Cy Young winner, and reading Till the End might just make you understand why Carl Willis is valued so highly. The story of the 2007 season was especially interesting for me, although it broke my heart all over again to read about the camaraderie among the players, how Sabathia wanted to put that team on his back, and how not winning a championship in ‘07 is the greatest professional regret of his career.
Of course, Sabathia left Cleveland after the ‘07 season, but it is clear that he holds no ill will and understands the business of the game. He makes a special point to point out the ways front office members, specifically Mark Shapiro, went to help him out even after the trade, but he does so in a way that specifically does not absolve the ownership for forcing the hand of the front office. If you’ve ever read this site before, you understand how that might be especially endearing.
But Sabathia hardly needs to endear himself any further at this point, especially after detailing the unique challenges a Black player in MLB faces. You can’t help but feel for him after reading about his life in California, the minors, and coming up as part of a very small group of Black players in MLB. Even if being an MLB player, let alone a Black player, is a foreign thing for a person like me, Sabathia does a good job letting the reader in and being unsparing about the problems he faced and the steps he took to make things better for those after him.
Till the End is not a flawless work, of course. Sabathia didn’t write a tell-all, so accounts of racism within the Cleveland clubhouse do not identify the offending party, and at one point John Rocker is somewhat absolved because he was never personally awful to Sabathia. But this is pretty standard fare for player memoirs and given the strengths of the book, it is forgivable. Overall, Till the End is a solid read with a good story about Sabathia’s rise to prominence and an even better story about grappling with addiction and finding the help he needed to stay healthy.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, there are many ways to get help. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has many resources to help give information about treatment, find treatment, and support others on their website: https://alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov/. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers resources on their website, https://findtreatment.gov/, or by phone at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).