NEW YORK — One thing can be said about former Major Leaguer CC Sabathia: He doesn’t mind putting his name out there for a good cause. That includes doing almost anything when it comes to promoting the Negro Leagues.
This past summer, Sabathia, 40, and the Major League Baseball Players

NEW YORK — One thing can be said about former Major Leaguer CC Sabathia: He doesn’t mind putting his name out there for a good cause. That includes doing almost anything when it comes to promoting the Negro Leagues.

This past summer, Sabathia, 40, and the Major League Baseball Players Association joined forces with the Negro League Baseball Museum and iconic lifestyle brand Roots of Fight to create a clothing line dedicated to those who played in the Negro Leagues, which was founded 100 years ago.

Featuring a full range of T-shirts, hoodies, two-tone baseball shirts, shorts and expanding to fleece and jackets in the fall/winter, the collection was designed and curated to preserve the Negro Leagues’ rich history and to celebrate the pioneers who authored it.

“The line has done incredibly well,” said NLBM president Bob Kendrick. “It’s exciting for us, because it’s the first time that we had a Major Leaguer endorse something that involves the Negro Leagues in this manner, even though CC had recently retired. To have CC behind our line, it was very exciting. … With him endorsing it, it got his peers to get involved.”

The way Sabathia saw it, if it weren’t for those Negro League players, he would not have had a 19-year career in the Major Leagues. And what a career it was. Sabathia won 251 games, captured the American League Cy Young Award in 2007 and appeared in six All-Star Games over the course of his career, playing for the Indians, Brewers and Yankees. He is also one of three left-handers in history to record 3,000 strikeouts in a career — Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson are the others.

As a favor to Sabathia, his friends across MLB were seen wearing the clothes before games. It started with members of the Yankees, the team he played with for 11 years. Before Sabathia knew it, players from around the league were wearing clothes produced by Sabathia and his team.

“It felt really good, because you never know how people are going to receive something that you put out,” Sabathia said in a recent phone interview with MLB.com. “Obviously, it’s something that benefits the museum and everybody in Kansas City. It meant a lot to me. [Yankees outfielders] Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge were the first to put it on and it caught like wildfire. The next thing you know, teams were buying it. It caught on with a lot of guys. It made it fun for me to see all these guys wearing the shirts and hoodies during batting practice and around the ballpark.”

A portion of proceeds from all sales will benefit the NLBM’s efforts to preserve and celebrate the rich history of African American baseball and its significance in the social advancement of America at large. The museum is currently closed after it was revealed on Sunday that two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Kendrick said they hope to reopen on Tuesday.

Prices for Sabathia’s clothing line range from $40 to $350 and debuted on RootsofFight.com. Roots of Fight will be donating a portion of sales from this program and their entire site to the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and other initiatives that help fight racial inequality and injustice. ROF has committed a minimum of $50,000 for these causes in 2020. When legendary former players are featured in the collection, a portion of proceeds will also go directly to them or their estates.

Sabathia is the creative director of the clothing line. In fact, he designed the program and apparel to include the phrase “They Played for Us” in order to represent the lasting influence Negro Leagues players have had on today’s game and popular culture. They played for us, so we can … will appear on the apparel, giving individuals a chance to finish the sentence with a personalized message of gratitude.

Sabathia became fascinated with the Negro Leagues during his rookie year with the Indians in 2007. During a road trip to Kansas City that season, Sabathia paid a visit to the NLBM and met the legendary Buck O’Neil, who told him stories about the league.

“I think a lot of people think the Negro Leagues was like backyard baseball, like it wasn’t a great brand,” Sabathia said. “But these guys had their own planes and [were] flying around the world playing baseball. It just shows you the talent these guys had. … I have been mesmerized by it. It’s hard to explain. The easiest way I can explain it is, [these guys] started their own league and played on a high level. I wouldn’t be able to do what I love without those guys before me.”

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.