Murti: Sabathia, Mussina Have Advice For Yankees' Next Big Free Agent Pitcher

Sweeny Murti
November 18, 2019 - 2:17 pm

Who will the next one be? Gerrit Cole? Stephen Strasburg? Madison Bumgarner?

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If the Yankees spend big on a free agent starting pitcher, the risks are obvious. Many have come to New York with big expectations and come up short.

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Two of them did not. The two most successful big-money free-agent starting pitchers the Yankees have signed were Mike Mussina before the 2001 season and CC Sabathia prior to 2009.  Ultra successful before they arrived, and when they put on pinstripes, they thrived. Mussina is in the Hall of Fame, and Sabathia has a very good chance to join him there in time.

So I asked both Mussina and Sabathia this past summer what advice they would have for those who wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Mussina: I think if you want to pitch well, you have to find a way to take what you do out there on the field versus what’s going on everywhere else in the world around you in New York — the coverage or the media or whatever else is going on — you have to find a way to separate the two. Be a baseball player and not have the other stuff affect you being a baseball player. 

I don’t know why I was able to handle it the way it worked out. Nobody said it had to — I could have been terrible the first two years, who knows? I could have been hurt. Who knows what? But I just found a way to, I guess for lack of a better way to put it, be self-centered enough that I could focus on what I had to do and do my job and not really worry about criticism or expectations or any of those things. Because that’s what gets everybody. 

The expectations are so high. There’s a lot of thought that as soon as you put this uniform on and wear pinstripes that you have to be better than you were anywhere else. And they wouldn’t bring you here if you weren’t pretty good already. So I just wanted to do what I had been doing. And I was at a place in my career where I felt I could do that. And so that’s what I did. 

I’m lucky. I didn’t get hurt and I had great teammates and good coaching and support and all that stuff, and I was able to go out and do my job. There were some bumps in the road and there were some years that weren’t as good as other years, but that’s the way it goes. 

But if I had to tell somebody how to deal with it, I’d tell them you have to do the best you can do, be a ballplayer when it’s time to be a ballplayer and not try to be more than that, not worry about what anybody else thinks about it and go out and do your job the way you were doing it before you got here. That’s your best approach. It may not work, but that should be your best approach.

Sabathia: Just be yourself. Obviously it’s a lot of pressure here, it’s hard to pitch here and play here, but I think if you just come in, be yourself, be honest with the media and be honest with yourself, I think you can get through the hard times. 

I think it’s only hard to pitch here at the beginning, at the very beginning. If you freak out at the beginning, then it’s going to be hard the whole time. But if you can just stay true to yourself, be honest with your assessment of yourself, then I think that you can get through the tough times that you’re going to have at the beginning and then everything will be fine.

Q: What makes you freak out at the beginning?

Just all the coverage of it. When you pitch bad or play bad here with the Yankees, it’s not just New York news. When I was in Cleveland or Milwaukee, it was just in Cleveland and Milwaukee. When you’re here, it’s on ESPN, it’s on "Sportscenter," it’s leading every story. It’s Yankee pitching. If you’re not used to that, if you don’t come up in that, then you can get a little freaked out by it. 

The biggest thing for me was having (Derek Jeter) here. I was a big ESPN watcher before I got here. I remember I was in the back one day and I was watching "Pardon the Interruption" or something like that, and Jete walked by and he was like,“What are you doing? You can’t watch none of that (stuff) when you’re here.” After that day, I just kind of didn’t pay attention to any of it. 

(Changing your habits) is hard, but I think it’s necessary. It’s a part of being able to pitch here and play here, being able to block out all of that noise and all of that stuff that surrounds playing here. 

You can try to tell people, but you just got to let them figure it out. Until they go through it, there’s nothing you can really do. 

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN.