After years in a supporting role, Amber Sabathia is in charge
By James Wagner
CC Sabathia has often joked that once he announced his retirement from the New York Yankees, he stepped aside and let his wife, Amber, get to work.
Throughout his career, she had: Running their family of four children, guiding him through the highs (an American League Cy Young Award and a World Series title) and the lows (alcoholism and injuries), and counseling him through contract negotiations. Particularly in 2019, the last of his 19 major-league seasons, she served as an executive producer of a documentary about his life, and organized his farewell tour.
“CC said, ‘You know, you would make a great agent,’” Amber Sabathia said in a phone interview. “And we laughed about it and he said, ‘No, seriously, you’ve been my agent the past seven years.’”
With experience amassed from more than two decades inside the baseball industry as an adviser, philanthropist, marketer, wife and mother, Sabathia formalized that step last week when Creative Artists Agency (CAA) announced that it hired her as an agent. She has already passed a background check through the Major League Baseball Players Association and can begin operating as an agent as she prepares for a test in September that will finalize her ability to represent a player on a major-league roster.
In becoming an agent, Sabathia has made a unique transition, but one she hopes will highlight how much of a force women are in baseball, even though they are often overlooked in the male-dominated industry.
Despite more women working in baseball, it took until 2020 for one to be hired as a full-time major-league coach (Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants) and as a general manager of a club (Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins). Sabathia is not the first female baseball agent — Charisse Dash and Lonnie Murray, for example, have worked as agents for more than a decade — but she will be the first to negotiate playing contracts at CAA’s baseball division.
“For so long, it was thought that a man needs to advise you, a man needs to be your agent and a man needs to negotiate your contracts, when the women are so impactful, and the wives and the girlfriends are a huge part of that,” Sabathia said. “Being a woman in MLB, I hope that what I can do is bring that side and let people know that it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you’re smart, you’re structured, you have drive, you can be an agent as well.”
There is another part of that underrepresentation in which Sabathia, a Black American, said she hopes to make a difference. In baseball, roughly 8% of major-league players are Black Americans.
“It doesn’t just start and end with the players,” she said. “It’s the front office, it’s the agents, it’s everybody involved with teams and ownership.”
For so long, Sabathia prioritized her husband’s career. They met while at Vallejo High School in their Northern California hometown. Back then, when CC was a top pitching prospect, she didn’t dream of becoming an agent. In fact, she wanted to be a teacher. She attended San Diego State University for three years, finishing the final two semesters of her liberal studies degree at San Francisco State University while her husband played for Cleveland.
“I was literally driving to San Francisco State, dropping my kids off at the day care on campus, going to school all day and picking them up,” said Sabathia, who later received a certificate in philanthropy and fundraising at New York University while her husband pitched for the Yankees.
Even though Sabathia’s husband had agents — currently Kyle Thousand at Roc Nation Sports — she said she worked alongside them, from when her husband signed a seven-year, $161 million deal to come to New York before the 2009 season through the multiple extensions to stay. She co-founded and served as the executive director of the Sabathias’ PitCCh In Foundation.
As their oldest child, Carsten Charles III, who is 17 and known as Little C, began playing baseball, Sabathia wondered if she could do the same for him as she had for husband, now 40. And she began dabbling in helping other players, like outfielders Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge on the Yankees, with their charitable efforts.
“I realized that I had a talent and why waste it and I’m just turning 40 this year, and he’s retiring and it’s a great time to start the career,” she said. “Also being involved with the families of players, and helping the families I realized that it’s such a huge and important role for an agent as well. You’re not only guiding the player but you’re guiding the families.”
So with her husband’s encouragement, Sabathia plunged ahead. At home in New Jersey during the pandemic shutdown last year, she said she began researching, reading the rules, applying, and talking to men and women throughout the industry about becoming an agent.
She said she interviewed with four agencies, and she immediately felt comfortable with the five co-heads of baseball at CAA. She said one of the reasons she picked them is because they didn’t ask her once about her husband.
“This wasn’t about his career,” Jeff Berry, a co-head of CAA Baseball, said in a phone interview. “This was about her career, and how she can help further our agency.”
Berry said Sabathia’s 20-plus years in baseball, her unique perspective, her passion for players, her motherly compassion and her business acumen were assets. He said she was as competent and qualified as anyone in the room, and that will only improve as she learns more about the contractual side.
“She comes at it from a different background, but it’s one we’re really excited about,” he said.