by Alex Perel, special to TheDailyPayoff
HBO and MLB announced this week a documentary about baseball legend CC Sabathia, entitled The Grapefruit Tree: The CC Sabathia Story, to premiere on December 22. The doc will cover Sabathia’s life growing up in Vallejo, California, to his final days with the New York Yankees. MLB is licensing exclusive footage taken from Sabathia’s last year with the Yankees in 2019, when a film crew followed him for special behind-the-scenes coverage.
The latter stages of Sabathia’s career were particularly challenging, as he battled personal issues and a well-documented bout with alcoholism. The All-Star starter overcame his troubles to return to the Yankees as an effective veteran presence on a younger team. In a statement to promote the announcement, Sabathia noted the emotional tone of the project: “I struggled for a long time with alcohol addiction and anxiety, which I pretty much hid from everyone I knew. It’s my hope we can inspire athletes and non-athletes alike to open up … You are not alone.”
Sabathia is one of the great starting pitchers of the 21st century, having amassed 251 wins and 3,093 strikeouts over his time with the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, and Yankees. He was the 2007 American League Cy Young and won the 2009 World Series with New York.
The HBO documentary is a continuation of Sabathia’s post-career efforts into media. He currently has a podcast on The Ringer with Ryan Ruocco entitled “R2C2.” They cover the Yankees, the greater baseball landscape, and all general sports topics of interest to Sabathia, such as his long-time fandom for the Oakland Raiders. Sabathia also frequently appears as a guest on ESPN’s “First Take.” He is an example of the modern athlete’s proactive approach toward player driven media.
NBA stars have typically been at the forefront of the movement, including Kyrie Irving, a key investor in Players Media Group, JJ Redick, who hosts the podcast “The Old Man and the Three,” and LeBron James, founder of media empire The Springhill Company. Sabathia is perhaps baseball’s largest figure in this arena. He is also a special advisor to Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and is often seen at New York’s home games. His dual roles with the team and as a sportscaster have positioned him as a form of insider into the current state of the Yankees and Major League Baseball.
After first airing on HBO, the documentary will be made immediately available on HBO Max. HBO Max has been growing its exclusive content over the last several months. The service has debuted Max Originals such as The Flight Attendant and new video on-demand availability for Warner Brothers films such as Wonder Woman 1984. The Grapefruit Tree helps build out HBO Sports’ contributions to the service. HBO Max recently added unscripted show The Cost of Winning to go along with staple shows “Hard Knocks” and UNINTERRUPTED’s “The Shop.”
Sports is an ever growing niche genre for streaming services to differentiate themselves. The level of athletes and brands a service is able to bring in greatly defines what the service can provide consumers looking for sports content. For HBO Max, the Sabathia documentary is another significant entry into this foray.