I would love to tell you that Vinnie Pestano is the greatest Indian to wear #52 in the club’s 100+ year history. I would love to tell you his 162 ERA+ and his 11.3 K/9 are testaments to his superiority, and that other guy, that … jackass, is a relative footnote in the history of a long-running franchise.
But alas, I cannot. Sigh.
Charles Carsten Sabathia was born in Vallejo, California on July 21, 1980. He was a three-sport letterman at Vallejo High School where he played baseball, basketball, and football. Rumors that Sabathia also lettered in competitive eating have proven to be false. While in Vallejo, Sabathia took advantage of the Major League’s RBI (Rebuilding Baseball in Inner Cities) program to play summer baseball, and hone his developing pitching skills. After a dominant senior season on the mound for the Apaches, Sabathia was rated as Baseball America’s #1 prospect in Northern California. At this time, C.C. received several football scholarship offers, and even signed a letter of intent to play football for the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawai’i.
Rather than attend college and play football, Sabathia was taken by the Cleveland Indians with the 20th overall pick in the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft. One-point-three million dollars later (his signing bonus), Sabathia breezed through the Indians minor league system with stops at Burlington, Mahoning Valley, Kinston, Akron and Buffalo. Sabathia went 13-13 in 51 minor league starts in 246.1 inning pitched. Sabathia wasn't absolutely dominant during his minor league trials — ERA of 3.43, 2.39 K/BB ratio, 1.29 WHIP — but his strikeout rates (10.4/9) and oversized frame demonstrated sure-fire big league potential. Sabathia won the club’s 2000 Lou Boudreau Minor League Player of the Year Award.
The 6-7 starter made his Major League debut in 2001. The twenty year-old was the youngest player in the major leagues. He certainly didn’t disappoint, going 17-5 with 171 strikeouts in 180.1 innings pitched. Sabathia finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to "rookie" Ichiro Suzuki.
The following season, Sabathia went 13-11 with a league-average 100 ERA+ in 210.1 innings for an Indians team who finished 74-88 under managers Charlie Manuel and Joel Skinner.
The next season, 2003, Sabathia came into his own, reducing his walks per nine ratio, and earning his first American League All-Star appearance. He would again win 13 games for a team struggling to compete under new manager Eric Wedge.
By 2004, Sabathia had established himself as the team’s number one starter, leading the team in wins for the third straight season. He followed his 2003 All-Star appearance with another show in the Midsummer Classic.
The next season, the Indians improved enough to be competitive in the American League Central. Sabathia would go on to win 15 games, strike out 161 batters in 196.2 innings, and consume 852 cheeseburgers. He would finish 4th in K/9, seventh overall in strikeouts, eighth in wins, and average 94.7 MPH on his fastball. As a result, the Indians picked up a $7m club option for 2006, and Sabathia, in turn, signed a two-year, $17.75 million dollar deal.
In 2006, Sabathia took another leap forward, despite a win-loss record of only 12-11 in only 28 starts. He led the American League in shutouts (2), and finished third in ERA (3.22). He also become the first southpaw to tally double-digit wins in his first six seasons in the league.
By 2007, the Indians had built a team to contend and Sabathia was one of the core talents on that team. That season saw many milestones for C.C., including his 1000th career strikeout (Ichiro), and his 100th career win. He earned his third All-Star apperance, won a career-high 19 games, and finished with a career-low 3.21 ERA. As a result, the Indians won their first American League Central Division title since 2001.
Sabathia was recognized as the best pitcher in the American League that season — becoming only the second pitcher in club history to win the Cy Young Award. In addtion to these accolades, Sabathia won the Warren Spahn Award (best left-handed pitcher) and was the Players Choice for Outstanding American League pitcher. The only thing missing from his mantle was now an American League and World Series title.
Sabathia won his first postseason outing versus the New York Yankees despite only lasting five innings and walking six batters. The unexpected wildness was a harbinger of things to come for the large left-hander.
In two appearances in the 2007 American League Championship series, Sabathia worked 10.1 innings, giving up 17 hits and 12 earned runs (10.45 ERA). He would walk seven and strike out nine batters, hit three and throw a wild pitch. The Indians lost both games, the second being a crucial game five that would have put Cleveland in the World Series for the first time in a decade.
By 2008, it became clear that keeping a talent the size of Sabathia in Cleveland was going to be a problem. Any new contract headed his way would no doubt be impossibly expensive for a small-market club like Cleveland. Sabathia lasted eighteen starts in Cleveland (6-8, 3.83 ERA) before being shipped to the National League Milwaukee Brewers in a deadline deal that netted prospects Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley. At the time of the deal, Sabathia led the American League in strikeouts (123) and K/9 (9.0) and was second in innings pitched. The Brewers, in the midst of a exciting playoff run tested Sabathia’s endurance with another 130 innings in 17 starts. He did not disappoint, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, and helping to lead Milwaukee into a relatively rare postseason.
Sabathia would again pitch horribly in the postseason. In his lone start against Philadelphia, he would last 3.2 innings and surrender five earned runs, six hits, and four walks.
In the spring of 2009, Sabathia would sign a seven year, $161 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees, the largest ever for a pitcher in Major League history. If you would like to read more about C.C.’s exploits with the Yankees, see here.
As an Indian, Sabathia ranks fifth all-time with 1,265 strikeouts, sixth in K/9 ratio (7.448). His 2007 K/BB ratio is the best single-season mark in club history at 5.649 (209 K/20 BB).
Charles Carsten Sabathia is the best Indian to wear #52 in club history.
The One Year Wonders
The All-Time List
Dave Hoskins RP (1953) 9-3, 26 G, 7 GS, 3.99 ERA, 112.2 IP, 93 ERA+; also #52 and #22 in 1933; acquired from Grand Rapids Jets (Central-A) in unknown transaction; switched to #22 in 1954
Larry Johnson C (1972) 500/500/500 194 OPS+, 2 PA; switched to #9 in 1974
Carmelo Castillo RF, LF, CF, PR (1982) 208/258/292 51 OPS+, 129 PA; minor league draftee from Phillies; switched to #12 and #8 in 1983
John Farrell SP (1987-1990, 1995) 32-30, 90 G, 87 GS, 3.93 ERA, 588.2 IP, 104 ERA+; traded to Tigers for Greg Granger
Brian Barnes RP (1994) 0-1, 6 G, 0 GS, 5.40 ERA, 13.1 IP, 88 ERA+; traded as PTBNL by Expos for Randy Milligan; traded to Dodgers for Eduardo Lantigua
Steve J Kline RP (1997) 3-1, 20 G, 1 GS, 5.81 ERA, 26.1 IP, 81 ERA+; traded to Expos for Jeff Juden
Dave Roberts CF (1999) 238/281/308 49 OPS+, 156 PA; traded with Tim Worrell by Tigers for Geronimo Berroa; switched to #10 in 2000
C.C. Sabathia SP (2001-2008) 106-71, 237 G, 237 GS, 3.83 ERA, 1528.2 IP, 115 ERA+; All-Star in 2003, 2004, 2007; 2nd in Rookie of Year voting in 2001; 1st in Cy Young voting in 2007; 14th in MVP voting in 2007
Mike Redmond C (2010) 206/242/270 44 OPS+, 68 PA
Vinnie Pestano RP (2010-2012) 1-2, 72 G, 0 GS, 2.42 ERA, 67 IP, 162 ERA+ (2012 stats not included)
Statistics and such
Other fun facts, the uniform #52 has been worn 24 times by 11 different players covering 22 seasons of a possible 84 seasons since 1929. Uniform #52 was shared in a season twice, 1997 and 2010.