September 19, 2010
It also allowed the New York Yankees pitcher entry into the exclusive "Black Aces," which only allows African-American pitchers who have won 20 or more games in a season as members. Sabathia is only the 14th black pitcher to reach that mark since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
"Maybe after the season," Sabathia said. "But right now we're right in the middle of this thing-trying to win a championship, trying to win a division first. ... Maybe after the season I can sit back and enjoy it a little more. Right now, I'm just looking five days ahead and who I'm pitching against next."
If Sabathia were in a spot to educate, here's probably what he'd tell you: The Black Aces was the brainchild of Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who won 20 games in 1965 and published a book on the group a few years back. Don Newcombe was the first member when he won 21 in 1951 and Dontrelle Willis(notes) was the last pitcher to join before Sabathia when he won 22 games in 2005.
The other members of the club are Vida Blue, Al Downing, Bob Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Fergie Jenkins (event though he's Canadian), Sam Jones, Mike Norris, J.R. Richard, Dave Stewart and Earl Wilson.
Grant says there has historically been an "unspoken color line" around the pitcher's mound. Only five African-American pitchers have won a Cy Young award and black starters on today's pitching staffs are few and far between.
Luckily, two pitchers who will get heavy face time this October — Sabathia and Tampa Bay's David Price(notes) — are African-American and perhaps their example will encourage and inspire others to follow in their footsteps on the hill.
Also, if Sabathia continues his workman-like success and keeps building on his total of 156 career victories, he'll be in a position to do what no black pitcher has ever done before: Win 300 games.
But that's still an accomplishment that's far off in the distance — at least 10 years away — and Sabathia is now only focused on leading a Yankees rotation in which he's the only one who's not a big, fat question mark. He says he'll enjoy this achievement later and it's a good bet he'll savor it once he does.
He certainly should.