Neither love-fest nor shooting gallery, on the day of his retirement, here’s the icy and brutally honest assessment of Andy Pettitte‘s career with its ups-and-downs; truths amid embellishments.
On the field and in a dark alley:
A player establishes relatively quickly whether he’s going to be able to handle the big stage of New York with the media, the attention, the temptations.
One thing that has aided the Yankees during the last 15 years of consistent championship contention has gone under-reported—that their “core four” Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada have stayed out of the front of the newspaper in a negative sense.
Aside from the Roger Clemens-PED controversy (more on that in a bit), as far as we know, Pettitte has been as clean off the field as he was gutty on it; the same can be said of Jeter, Rivera and Posada.
Jeter of course is as big a star as an athlete can possibly be and he’s a bon vivant nonpareil, but he’s shunned controversy and never consciously placed himself into a position where he could be embarrassed.
It was a more difficult road for Pettitte as he was a soft-spoken and subdued Texan; a handsome young athlete who likely had more negative influences available because of the evident shyness. The questions abounded if Pettitte was genuine or if the image was a means-to-an-end for the club and player.
But they were avoided.
If anything was a key to the Yankees run, it was that on and off field professionalism. Vultures and greenflies hover around a young athlete especially in New York; if he keeps from succumbing, he’s free to perform on the field.
As a pitcher, Pettitte was never the most dominant, but there was something about him that said he wasn’t going to wilt in the spotlight. He started his big league career in 1995 out of necessity as an extra arm out of the Yankees bullpen and didn’t enter the starting rotation until a month later. As a rookie he went 12-9 and was a major part of the Yankees late season run to the playoffs; his first post-season start against the Mariners was serviceable, but he was warming up in the bullpen when Jack McDowell blew game 5 in the series loss.
In the 1996 regular season, he went 21-8 and blossomed into a full-blown star; it was in the playoffs that his reputation began to cement itself. His performance in game 5—8 1/3 innings of 5 hit, no run ball, set the stage for the championship clincher in game 6.
As the years passed, Pettitte’s career didn’t follow the path some assumed it would. Rather than continue and improve, he became a cog in the machine. With high ERAs and accumulation of wins in the regular season, there was never an overt “fear” of Andy Pettitte where teams worried about not being able to score runs; he took advantage of the run-scoring machine those Yankees were; that they had a terrific bullpen and he won a lot of games.
You knew at the beginning of each season what you were going to get from Pettitte; that’s not on a level with the devastation a pitcher like Pedro Martinez brought forth on his victims, but it may have been as important. Knowing someone’s going to be there and not cower in the face of danger is a valuable asset.
Pettitte’s career took him to the Astros—a fact that’s conveniently glossed over in the postmortems of his career—and he left the Yankees as a matter of choice. It was said to have partially been due to the disrespect he felt he was receiving from the Yankees organization; that they had other priorities and fell asleep at the switch with their financial might seen as the final arbiter (sounds familiar now, doesn’t it?); but Pettitte took less money from the Astros after a desperation offer from the Yankees failed.
Three years later, he returned, did the same job he did in his first stint with the Yankees. Never dominant; always consistent; durable and money in the playoffs.
A few weeks ago, when the Yankees were said to have offered a contract to Carl Pavano, I said that Pavano is not the person I’d want at my back in a dark alley unless there was a beach, a Porsche dealership and a modeling agency in clear view on the other side; with Pettitte, I’d have no such hesitation—he’s the guy you want protecting you. If he lost, it wasn’t due to a lack of conviction or courage; it was because he got beat.
The PEDs and sullying of his reputation:
It’s not to be totally dismissed that Pettitte admitted to having used HGH. He claimed it was trying to overcome an injury and earn his paycheck by continuing to pitch.
As cynical as I am and knowing the way people almost universally are, I believe him. Just like I believe his assertion that he told the truth about Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee because it was the right thing to do—it’s a rarity.
Multi-millionaire athletes think nothing of flinging overboard a convenient scapegoat to save themselves; Pettitte could’ve done that with his testimony in the Clemens case, but didn’t.
Is it a giant black mark on his career or a mere blot?
I say it’s a blot; continually reference in calling Pettitte a “cheater” is a cheap, agenda-laden shot. It has nothing to do with the notion—which cannot be answered by an outsider—that Pettitte “wouldn’t do that”. You nor I would know what he’s up to in his private life; but I believe him when he says he used the drugs briefly and stopped.
In this era with Rafael Palmeiro‘s finger pointing and Clemens’s “misrememberations”, it was refreshing in the Jason Giambi sense that he did it and wasn’t going to lie about it. With Giambi, there was a bumpkin-like innocence that he was in court and under oath and wasn’t going to present falsehoods; with Pettitte it was because he knew what happened and wasn’t going to make a difficult situation worse for himself by denying that which he knew to be true.
The aftermath for player and club:
Could Pettitte, at age 39, decide at some point that he wants to play? And would the Yankees have him?
But the team had to have prepared for this eventuality; Pettitte’s gone and, for all intents and purposes, he’s not coming back. I believe that the lack of desire played a part in his decision, but I also think that a physical breakdown is an issue; with back, muscle and elbow problems, to think that he’d again be the horse he’s been in the past is ignoring reality.
I doubt Pettitte wanted to go through a year of not knowing which pitch would be his last; whether his back or elbow would blow at any moment.
The reactions to the retirement have bordered on nonsensical.
I truly loathe when a club is attacked for that which they didn’t do, but the attacker doesn’t present a viable solution.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the following on Twitter yesterday:
Some of the names are shots in the dark; others are absurd. For what possible reason would the Padres want to trade Clayton Richard? Why would the A’s trade Gio Gonzalez? More examples of the media coming to solutions in the vein of “the Yankees want, therefore the Yankees get” like talk show callers who want to trade Brett Gardner for Albert Pujols.
Naturally Jonah Keri delivered the same stat-based “reality” that makes this a good plan. Much like the extolling of the Mariners last season, their numbers bypass the reality that Zito would get blasted in the American League East. The patient hitters in the division and throughout the league would do a number on him; he’d give the Yankees 200 innings and post an ERA of 5.50 with a load of homers, 5 inning starts and plenty of walks.
They’re better off with what they have rather than take the remaining $64.5 million guaranteed on Zito’s contract; presumably, he might demand that his full option for 2014 ($18 million) be exercised rather than the $7 million buyout; and Keri suggests that the Giants might pick up half of the money.
Like the Padres trading Richard, what’s in it for them aside from getting the Yankees top prospects whom GM Brian Cashman is not trading for Zito.
And finally, there’s Wallace Matthews on ESPN—link.
Matthews’s piece is conspicuous in its criticism without a solution.
What did he want them to do?
Let’s say they were putting faith in his competitiveness and more money would overcome Pettitte’s implication that he was done; what was the pitching market past Cliff Lee?
Could they have traded for Zack Greinke? Maybe. Perhaps they should’ve rolled the dice on the off-field questions surrounding Greinke’s suitability for New York and surrendered whatever it took to get him—Jesus Montero, Ivan Nova, whatever—but they chose not to do that. And I understand why.
The Pavano move would’ve been insane; but what were their options? Much like my questioning to the critics as to what Mets GM Sandy Alderson was supposed to do this winter aside from what he’s done, what was the diabolical scheme that Matthews would’ve executed to repair the fissures in the Yankees rotation?
I read the column and didn’t see one idea from Matthews—maybe because past Lee, there wasn’t one.
Andy Pettitte has retired.
It’s not a national tragedy; not fodder for Yankees ridicule; not an opportunity to savage their front office for inaction.
Instead Pettitte should be appreciated for what he was and not canonized as a demagogue for his attributes. That diminishes rather than aggrandizes. Holding him to a higher standard will ruin the good that he did on and off the field.
He won five championships; he behaved professionally and with class; he made a lot of money; and he told the truth.
It’s a great career without being great.
That should be enough for now.