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The SabathiaFamily Business

Published: 10/18/23
By Shlomo Sprung

Most professional athletes fade into obscurity when they retire. CC Sabathia, a baseball lifer, wanted to make sure he didn’t.

A dominant left-handed pitcher, Sabathia enjoyed a decorated 19-year Major League Baseball career that included a World Series title, Cy Young award, six All-Star appearances, and 251 regular season wins. Through it all, his wife, Amber, was by his side sharing the day-to-day grind. She soon grew interested in becoming an agent — and continuing to help grow the game.

As baseball works to re-establish inroads to America’s Black communities, CC and Amber have emerged as guiding forces in powerful positions in the baseball landscape. With the percentage of Black MLB players at an all-time low for the second straight season, the timing couldn’t be better.

CC, who played for Cleveland, Milwaukee, and the New York Yankees, is wrapping up his second season as a special assistant to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Amber is now a fast-rising agent at CAA. The agency’s Co-head of Baseball, Ryan Hamill, said there’s no limit to what she can accomplish.

With their eldest son, Carsten, starring as a power-hitting sophomore first baseman at Georgia Tech with legitimate big league aspirations of his own, the Sabathias’ latest chapter is a uniquely comprehensive baseball life.

“It’s turned into truly a family business for us,” Amber told Boardroom.

In wide-ranging interviews with the Sabathias — including one for an episode of Boardroom’s “Out Of Office” with Rich Kleiman — and exclusive insights from key figures in the couple’s circle, we got an inside look at this growing family venture, from the couple’s current day jobs to their vital roles at baseball’s Players Alliance, their PitCCh In Foundation, and more.

When CC took his special assistant role at MLB’s league office at the beginning of the 2022 season, he told Boardroom that he wasn’t sure exactly what the job would look like. He knew, however, that he wanted to give players more of a voice and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion from the grassroots level on up.

Sabathia quickly earned the ear and the respect of many of baseball’s top executives.

That includes MLB’s Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden, who leads efforts in supporting clubs and players in everything from designing and selling merchandise to booking advertising and partnerships. He’s grown close with the Sabathias over the last couple of years and now works closely with CC at the league office, discussing partner collaborations and determining how players can become more centrally involved in that process.

“He’s helped us more clearly understand some things that work and don’t work for players,” Garden told Boardroom. “We spend a lot of time talking about different collaborations we can do with partners, and he has a keen eye towards what’s hot and what’s not.”

Beyond spotting trends, Garden also noticed that CC isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He pulls no punches, and the league has come to value the pair’s penchant for honest feedback and open communication along the way.

“Noah’s like, ‘Man, you’re not scared to talk,’” CC told Boardroom. “Yeah, I’m in there with owners and all these different people, but I’m an expert on baseball. I’ve been playing this shit my whole life and I played it at the highest level for a long time. There is no room in a baseball office where I walk in and I don’t feel comfortable. Whoever’s in there, I feel like I have the level of baseball expertise that they have.”

In the eyes of ESPN and YES Network broadcaster Ryan Ruocco, a close friend of the Sabathias who hosted a podcast for several years with CC, it’s the ability to exude authenticity in front of any audience that makes the World Series champ so well-suited to this role. CC can relate to current and past players, fans, front offices, and MLB’s most senior C-suite executives alike. He brings his passion for inspiring young athletes and growing the game as a whole in an effort to build a bridge from the commissioner’s office to younger generations and the often-overlooked communities in which baseball used to thrive.

“He’s passionate about them having a game that is better than the one that he had,” Ruocco told Boardroom, “and if he can help do that for the game from the inside, that’s pretty impactful.”

CC helped spearhead MLB’s Commissioner’s Ambassador Program, enlisting former All-Stars like Ryan Howard, Ichiro Suzuki, and Fred McGriff to serve as liaisons to current and former players on and off the field, attend tentpole MLB events, and participate in youth and community events. CC said being heard and valued in his role validates his decision to take the job, and gives him the confidence to pitch other ideas he has for the game.

It’s all part of a new chapter that the southpaw never realized how much he would adore.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do in retirement. I knew I still wanted to be around the game; I didn’t know how important the game was to me. I didn’t know how much I loved the game,” CC said. “I thought, ‘Once I retired, I’m done with baseball. I lived that life’ — but no. I’m a baseball lifer in my blood.”

Toward the end of CC’s playing career, Amber made a point to explore the world of philanthropy and non-profits, working with past and present Yankees like Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks to help them develop their own foundations.

It was CC who told her that she would make an amazing agent, and when Amber started looking into the possibility, she agreed.

When Hamill got a call from CAA Co-head of Sports Mike Levine about Amber’s industry aspirations, he initially dismissed the possibility as just another player’s relative looking to get in the business.

“We get those calls all the time, but when we interviewed Amber, she blew our doors off. She came to the table with a different set of skills that anyone we’ve ever dealt with who’s been affiliated with another player. She came in with her own personality, ideas, goals, and aspirations. Amber could’ve come in and touted the fact that CC is her husband, and she’s never once done that.”

— Ryan Hamill

Amber came in on the ground floor, assisting CAA with active clients like Cincinnati Reds star pitcher Hunter Greene with his day-to-day while also helping recruit new clients like St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker and Kansas City Royals pitcher Taylor Hearn.

Being an agent, Hamill said, means at times you have to act as therapist, PR director, traveling secretary, and equipment manager. Amber has thrived in each role.

“She understands the assignment,” Hamill said, “and the biggest part of this job is understanding what we do on a day-to-day basis. All of the things that we do for our clients, she knows. She lived it before she was an agent, and she’s here now doing an excellent job managing and directing our clients in the ways that we need.”

Sabathia is thankful that CAA knew exactly what to do with her, understood what she brought to the table, and supported and encouraged her in marketing, creativity, branding, and recruitment.

Describing herself as a perfectionist who’s all in on everything she does, Amber’s biggest challenge comes in balancing life as an agent, wife, mother, friend, and creative. In addition to representing CC and Carsten, Amber counts Greene, Walker, Hearn, Cincinnati pitcher Justin Dunn, and some college players in the NIL space among her clients. She is in daily contact with Greene, managing his off-field marketing and endorsement deals while making a point to connect to the 24-year-old in ways not all representatives can through her devotion, work ethic, and due diligence.

“Initially, we all shook our heads a little, like ‘Is this really happening?’ And she’s continued to wow us from day one. It’s really impressive to see her take over a room on the things she’s really passionate about, and gives a perspective that quite frankly none of us have ever had, and she’ll stop at nothing to make sure her clients’ goals are achieved.”

— Ryan Hamill

Amber additionally represents softball star and media personality AJ Andrews, who admires her agent’s ability as a go-getting advocate who gets things done while making her feel like family.

“She knows what it takes to market me as a Black woman,” Andrews said. “She knows the things I have to go through and how to overcome them, and she also wants to have a personal relationship outside of business transactions. She’s always ahead on not just me knowing what I’m worth, but seeing my worth and adding to it.”

Similarly, Ruocco is not surprised by Amber’s success as an athlete advocate because he’s seen her achieve anything and everything she commits to doing.

“Amber’s the kind of woman who you meet once and you’re like, ‘Damn, I want to be in her orbit,’” Ruocco said. “I want to be in her presence because she’s just so clearly a winner, and a winner with a beautiful heart. She’s just a powerhouse, a human being who gets things done. She’s just a ridiculously smart, committed, dedicated woman who can problem-solve basically anything. She’s that kind of special.”

“What I know and what I’ve been through in CC’s career and in this game and the relationships that I’ve built, I feel like I have a level up that I could really [use to] support players. And I said to one of my guys: 19 years from now, if I’m still sitting here, then I know I did my job.”

— Amber Sabathia

Sabathia said she wouldn’t be where she is today as an agent without the help of a large agency like CAA — and if she continues at the trajectory she’s set, Hamill said the future is hers to dictate.

“She is so impressive in a room and with the clientele, a hardworking person that gets it,” he said. “All you can ask for is somebody who puts their head down, works hard, and gets the job done. And she’s done that from the moment she’s been here.”

That uncommon drive made Amber Sabathia a natural fit for the industry from the jump. Looking ahead, count on it to continue to shape an expanding family business that’s every bit as rare.

“The No. 1 question I get all the time: ‘Why are you an agent? You don’t have to be.’ Well, Beyoncé doesn’t have to go on tour, but yet, she does,” she said. “When it’s your passion and your purpose and you’re good at it — and I’m really good at what I do — I knew that this is what our purpose was.”

While CC and Amber were not founding members of The Players Alliance when it launched in 2020, CC was nevertheless there to cheer on its trailblazers, including Edwin Jackson, Cameron Maybin, and Dee Gordon.

Describing itself as “focused on building equitable systems in order to change the trajectory of diversity throughout baseball,” the Players Alliance’s mission is “to address baseball’s systemic barriers to equity and inclusion by creating pathways to opportunities on and off the field for an undeniable pipeline of Black talent.”

A breakthrough moment came at 2021 All-Star week in Denver when Major League Baseball committed up to $150 million over 10 years to Players Alliance in its efforts around participation in baseball, educational grants, mentorship, professional development, and initiatives that celebrate Black baseball history and culture.

CC quickly joined as Vice Chair of the organization’s board to help determine the best ways for players to make a difference in these efforts. Without initiatives like the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program, many current or former Black players wouldn’t have reached the Majors, so CC felt obligated to understand where he came from and help other kids in those situations. Sabathia makes sure the Alliance and MLB sustain a strong push in helping Black youth realize opportunities in baseball and softball.

In July at 2023 All-Star week in Seattle, the Sabathias and the Alliance held an “Equip the Future” clinic at the Seahawks’ Lumen Field where more than a dozen former big leaguers held mentorship sessions with young Black athletes. They discussed their experiences and formed connections meant to aid in facilitating more opportunities in and around the sport. That included participation from some of Amber’s clients — specifically, top prospects from the weekend’s All-Star Futures Game.

After one of the mentorship sessions on the field, 17-year MLB veteran Edwin Jackson said that he and the rest of the 150 current and former players are involved in the Alliance because they all have the same mission to invest in underserved communities and want to provide resources wherever they can.

That made CC Sabathia a prime addition.

“When he shares stories, they resonate with some of these kids,” Jackson, a founding board member, told Boardroom. “He can talk about success and failure and be vulnerable. He goes from being superhuman more to ‘he’s human, he’s like us, he had similar experiences that we go through.'”

Curtis Granderson, Sabathia’s longtime Yankees teammate, serves as Chair of the Alliance’s board and was also in attendance at the Seattle event. He, CC, and Jackson were part of a group of MLB alumni who held strong connections with both current players and many who retired years ago — the ideal bridge, he said, to launch a lasting initiative.

“CC and Amber are very familiar with how the youth space works because Little C just went through all that,” Granderson told Boardroom, opting to use the 20-year-old Carsten’s nickname. “They experienced all these different sides of the game.”

While it will take time for the percentage of Black American MLB players to rise substantially toward what it once was, CC wants to see more avenues open up for Black athletes in the sport, and The Players Alliance exists to let kids know that the game has endless opportunities.

“A lot of people still don’t acknowledge or understand that this is even an issue,” Amber said. “When they hear people say there’s not enough Blacks in baseball, they’re like, ‘Wait, what? No, there’s plenty.’ So, even acknowledging that it’s a problem is always the first step in the right direction.”

If working for the commissioner, being an agent, keeping active roles at the Players Alliance, and raising four kids weren’t enough for CC and Amber Sabathia, they also operate their own charity foundation and an upstart media company.

PitCCh In Foundation was born in 2008 to give back to the communities that gave CC and Amber so much, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Cleveland, and New York. Through backpack giveaways, youth baseball clinics, field renovations, and fundraising events, PitCCh In aims to give youth the tools to succeed in school and on the field.

Amber, who serves as Executive Director, cares about PitCCh In so much that she referred to it as her fifth child — and in 2023, the foundation has already held the most single-year events in its history.

The Sabathias additionally run Grapefruit Media, their own media brand devoted to minority athlete empowerment, in partnership with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Uninterrupted, through podcasts and both scripted and unscripted content. Once again, Amber is front and center in driving the day-to-day effort.

“I really don’t understand how she has time to do all of it,” CC said. “It’s really insane.”

On top of it all, she’s helping Carsten not only navigate college baseball and the NIL landscape, but the pressure of living up to his father’s name in the family’s beloved sport.

“It’s just all part of being a Sabathia, and I think he’s extremely humble, but he knows he has to make a name for himself. I do think it’s harder for him, but I also think it’s going to help him a lot in his career — having that legacy of the Sabathia name. Baseball is our business, whether it’s CC, me, Carsten, our youngest son that’s coming up, and all our kids know that and they wear it on their sleeve. They’re proud of it, but they’re also very humbled by it.”

— Amber Sabathia

CC and Amber are just two years into this latest chapter in their lives, but have already built a strong foundation for delivering a profound impact through baseball for decades to come.

“CC was a great ambassador for baseball while he was playing, and that’s a role he’s continued to embrace during retirement,” Hall of Famer and former teammate Derek Jeter told Boardroom. “When you take a look at the variety of ways he’s involved, it’s clear how much of a focus he has on making sure he can continue to represent and help grow the sport.”

Having known the Sabathias for more than a decade, Ruocco greatly admires them in both business and philanthropy as they set a compelling example for the next generation. In CC’s view, that means endeavoring to become worthy successors to baseball’s greatest couples, like Jackie and Rachel Robinson and Hank and Billye Aaron.

“It’s unbelievable how they can throw their full hearts into so many different incredible causes, commitments, or pursuits. I’m definitely lucky in my life to have a great example in my own parents. And then, when I think about people I’ve been around professionally, I look at Amber and CC and think that’s the kind of couple I aspire to be with my wife as well.”

— Ryan Ruocco

Across nearly every facet of the game, the Sabathia family business is up and running.

And as the baseball world notes with increasing enthusiasm, business is most definitely booming.

“We’re a baseball family, and for the longest time, I think I tried to fight that,” CC said. “But now, just getting into the second half of my life, it kind of is who we are.”

Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.