TAMPA — The voice that roared through cement walls and the loud laugh that started in the belly of a big frame and shattered the early morning stillness of the Yankees’ spring training clubhouse are no longer present.
CC Sabathia took them with him when he retired after last season, and it didn’t take three days for those he left behind to notice his absence.
“At that stage of his career, the biggest thing was just being there for his teammates and the pitchers through struggles and being their biggest supporters when they were doing well,” reliever Zack Britton, who was Sabathia’s teammate for one-plus seasons as a Yankee, said Saturday at Steinbrenner Field. “He always kept things in perspective, when things were good and when things were bad. He had been through so much and had seen it all and obviously that big personality.”
Sabathia went 134-88 with a 3.81 ERA in 11 Yankees seasons and was the ace of the 2009 World Series-winning staff, so he had the numbers required of a leader.
According to Britton, Sabathia also had a sense of timing when and where the left-handed Hall of Fame candidate would deliver away from a packed Yankee Stadium.
“Those days when the team was feeling sluggish he would be over there laughing and bringing good energy to the clubhouse,” Britton said of Sabathia, who finished a 19-year career with a 251-161 record, a 3.74 ERA and 3,093 strikeouts on his Cooperstown resume. “Those are the things that I noticed especially.”
As an Oriole, Britton watched outfielder Adam Jones fill the role that Sabathia assumed in the Yankees’ clubhouse. Knowing that Jones and Sabathia are friends, Britton wasn’t surprised his fellow lefty had the same presence.
“Those guys are really hard to come by,” said Britton, who believes it will take more than one voice to replace Sabathia. “It is not going to be one person but a bunch of different guys.”
According to James Paxton, Brett Gardner will replace Sabathia as the clubhouse sage and could be assisted by Gerrit Cole, though the stud free-agent is embarking on his first year as a Yankee.
“Gardy will have the clubhouse role for sure,” Paxton said of the 36-year-old outfielder whose first big league season was 2008 and who is the longest-tenured Yankee. “A guy like Gerrit Cole could step into a position like that. It might be hard on him in his first year getting to know people. We have a veteran team and lots of guys with plenty of experience. I feel like we can all take pieces and help each other out.”
Aaron Judge is entering his fourth full big league season and has the talent and personality that draws players to him.
Paxton remains grateful he had Sabathia to learn from, even if it was for just one season.
“He helped me a ton last year being my first year in New York. He talked about his experience when he first came to New York [in 2009] and helping me through it,” said Paxton, who will miss time at the start of the season due to recent lower back surgery. “He helped me being a Yankee and what it takes. Obviously he knows what it takes; he has been there so long. That really helped me a lot.”
Sabathia works in the Yankees’ front office now and spent the winter acclimating to a different life. He was recently reminded that he no longer is a player when he pulled into the Yankee Stadium parking lot and found Masahiro Tanaka’s No. 19 where his spot used to be. When he arrives in camp as an instructor, he will discover Aroldis Chapman has moved into his old locker in the front, left corner of the clubhouse.
It is impossible to quantify what Sabathia did off the field as a Yankee, but three days into workouts, it’s easy to see his work has been missed.