Archive for February 4th, 2011

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Usually, when one thinks of a podium in the Bronx, it’s there to say hello to a new million dollar acquisition. This time, however, the media hordes were assembled to say goodbye to one of the team’s all-time greats. That’s why, as Andy Pettitte answered questions about his decision to retire, the proceedings took on somewhat of a surreal feeling. After all, if Pettitte was healthy enough to pitch, capable of performing at a high level (his ERA+ of 130 was the fourth highest in his career), and greatly needed by the Yankees, why exactly was he walking away?

As expected, Pettitte’s reasons for retiring centered on his family. According to the lefty, his heart simply wasn’t into returning because the other aspects of his life were pulling on its strings. Considering that Pettitte’s heart has always been in the right place (although Yankees’ fans might not like where it is now), his reasoning was perfectly understandable. And yet, it is still hard to imagine a great player voluntary walking away from the game when he still has the ability to perform.

Andy Pettitte and wife Laura field questions at press conference announcing his retirement (Photo: Getty Images).

At the beginning of the proceedings, Jason Zillo, the Yankees director of media relations, made an interesting comment about Pettitte’s press conference being a unique event in his 15-year tenure with the team (which is almost as long as Pettitte’s). In fact, the validity of the comment extends well beyond Zillo’s time in the Bronx. Despite having scores of superstar players who spent the bulk of their careers with the team, the Yankees have not hosted many press conferences to announce the retirement of a legendary figure.

Since 1901, the Yankees have had 22 position players (minimum 1,000 games) and 10 pitchers (minimum 200 games started or 400 games) compile a WAR greater than 30 during their time in pinstripes. However, from that illustrious group, only three have had a formal press conference to say goodbye on their own terms: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and now Andy Pettitte.

When the Yankees faced the Dodgers in the 1952 World Series, Joe DiMaggio was sitting in the bleachers instead of playing centerfield (Photo: Life)

Like Pettitte, DiMaggio had been hinting at retirement for some time before eventually making his final decision. During the course of his injury plagued career, Joltin’ Joe would often hint at walking away, but he finally formalized his intentions during the spring of 1951. Despite the dramatic announcement, not too many people expected DiMaggio to actually retire, and the doubts lingered even after he had a subpar year by his standards (OPS+ of 115 in 482 plate appearances). However, after winning the World Series against the cross-town Giants, DiMaggio again told reporters that he probably wouldn’t be back in 1952. Most people still shrugged off the statement, and even Yankees’ owner Dan Topping didn’t seem convinced, telling DiMaggio, “you might feel differently a month from now”. Almost 60 years later, Cashman would be telling Pettitte the same thing.

When baseball is no longer fun, it is no longer a game and so I’ve played my last game of ball.” – Joe DiMaggio, quoted by UP at his retirement press conference, December 11, 1951

As things turned out, DiMaggio was serious. On December 11, 1951, Joltin’ Joe assembled the media and officially retired from the game, much the same way that Pettitte did this morning. At the time, however, such an event was unheard of. “The press conference in which Joe announced his retirement was without precedent in size and confusion,” stated The Sporting News’ Dan Daniel. “The writers were far outnumbered by the newsreel, radio and TV specialists. The sandwiches, coffee and cheese cake had to be replenished thrice.”


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Glowing tributes were the initial reactions to Andy Pettitte’s retirement, but since then a deeper look into his admitted use of HGH has begun to emerge (and Larry’s examination at IIATMS is not surprisingly one of the most thorough). Some have questioned why Pettitte has been given the benefit of the doubt regarding his admission, while others have hinted that his confession could be a black mark when his name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of the post-steroid era.

The other members of the core four look on as Andy Pettitte conducts a press conference (February 18, 2008) to detail his admitted use of HGH (Photo: UPI).

Without going into too much detail on the whole performance enhancing drugs debate, there is an important distinction that needs to be made in the case of Pettitte. There is no accusation alleging or evidence suggesting that the Yankees’ lefty used anything other than HGH. That’s significant for two reasons. From a performance standpoint, there is no evidence to suggest that the drug yields a performance enhancing benefit. In fact, all of the best evidence points to the contrary. So, regardless of whether Pettitte took HGH three times or 30, and whether his motive was to heal from an injury or throw a 100mph fastball, his actions would not have had an impact on his mound performance.

There were instances, like (Yankee pitcher) Andy Pettitte’s, where they have an injury and they take HGH to try to recover more quickly. Pettitte may well have been told that it works by a trainer and fell for it. Who knows, getting an injection is an incredibly powerful placebo effect.” – Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston University, Popular Science, February 20, 2008

Secondly, the legality of HGH is a very murky topic. Under some circumstances, the drug can be used with a prescription, so distributing it is not inherently illegal. What’s more, most of the punitive aspects of the law deal with distribution, not use, so in a sense, taking HGH isn’t necessarily a crime. Because baseball’s drug policy prohibits the use of prescription drugs without a doctor’s consent, that possibility is mostly irrelevant, but it may have some meaning to those who moralize about criminal behavior (ironically, many of those same moralists turn a blind eye toward amphetamine use as well as alcohol consumption during prohibition).

There really isn’t much of a basis to suggest that Pettitte cheated, which seems to be the buzz word of the day. Although he did violate a MLB rule, his actions weren’t any different from a player taking antibiotics obtained without a prescription, and certainly more benign than one who used either amphetamines or narcotics. Also, if his stated intention is believed, his motive wasn’t to enhance performance, but heal more quickly from an injury. Again, that really isn’t morally different from seeking an unapproved treatment, which I don’t think most people would consider cheating. Of course, baseball’s morality regarding cheating is convoluted anyway, as evidenced by Gaylord Perry’s legendary status as a Hall of Fame spitballer.

One other criticism of Pettitte is that his story has changed over the years, suggesting a level of dishonesty that contradicts his reputation. That claim is also dubious. The smoking gun in this argument is Pettitte’s denial about using PEDs when quizzed on the subject back in 2006. Below is the money quote (h/t IIATMS):

I guess reports are saying that I’ve used performance-enhancing drugs. I’ve never used any drugs to enhance my performance on the baseball field before. Like I said, I don’t know what else to say except that it is embarrassing that my name would be out there with this.” – Andy Pettitte, Houston Chronicle, October 2, 2006


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