Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tells a story like none other. You could call him folksy. I think he sounds a lot like some of my friends from Missouri. Manuel was CC Sabathia’s first manager in the big leagues. It was 2001 and Sabathia was a 20-year-old who had never pitched above Double-A. Manuel had to fight to get Sabathia on the big league roster out of spring training. It’s a long story, but it’s a good story, and Manuel told it this afternoon at the stadium. Here’s Manuel…
You know, CC is a great talent, and he’s a tremendous pitcher. But one of the biggest things, I say one of the biggest things he’s got is he has a real big desire, and he loves to pitch. He’s a competitor.
You know, I remember the first time that I really actually saw CC, we took him to a Hall of Fame — I think it was a Hall of Fame game — and we might have been playing the Yankees. No, it was Texas, but anyway. We were playing somebody, and because he was in the minor leagues and he was one of our high draft choices and everything, we brought him to that game, and he got lit up. He got lit up pretty good.
I remember when I walked up and told him, I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, kid, because you’re going to be a real good pitcher one of these days, you’re going to pitch in the big leagues for a long time.’ Ever since then, when we’d go to spring training and stuff, of course he would go to spring training and I’d always go watch him pitch. I used to like to watch him hit, too, because he could hit.
Eventually, I think about a year and a half or something went by, and he went to spring training with us (in big league camp), and once we had him in spring training, Dick Pole and I — Dick Pole was my pitching coach — we wanted to look at him and see if he could help us. Actually the first couple times I saw him pitch, I knew he could help us because he had that kind of talent.
We went to Venezuela to play Houston Astros in an exhibition in spring training, and all of us were wondering what CC was like, and if he could handle Major League hitters. In the first inning he had the bases loaded. He could probably tell you better than I can, but he had the bases loaded and we had Bagwell and we had the center fielder, Hidalgo and Berkman, and CC got out of the inning. He struck two of them out, popped one of them up, and I told Dick Pole, ‘He’s ready.’
So we went back, and we started (the spring training schedule) and he pitched a few times, and we used to get in these arguments every meeting that we had with the player development department. We’d get in all these arguments and I’d want to keep him, and finally we won out. And we promised that when we took him that we would kind of monitor him and break him in.
Actually, he would go out and pitch, he’d pitch sometimes four and two thirds or five innings, and I want to say he ended up 17-5, but we were worried about working him too much. And everybody kept telling me about pitching him a lot, and his pitch count and everything like that. Actually if you go back and look, like from the middle of August through September, CC was our best pitcher. And he was probably, without a doubt he was our strongest pitcher, and he finished the season real big out here.
Where he’s at now tells a story because that’s kind of — he’s every bit that good. For us to beat CC, we’ve got to beat a good pitcher, and I have all the respect in the world for him. As a matter of fact, I like the heck out of him.