Posts Tagged ‘Andy Pettitte’

(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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Andy Pettitte always seemed to be a family man first and a big league pitcher second. His career began with an impatient desire to support his young wife and five month old son, and now, with word that he will officially retire tomorrow during a press conference at Yankee Stadium, it concludes in large part because of his ever growing desire to return to the home he provided.

Andy Pettitte has a 5-month-old son and a wife living with his in-laws in Deer Park, Tex. He would love to buy his own house so Josh could have a backyard and Laura could have a picket fence. First, Pettitte must build a pitching career with the Yankees. – Jack Curry, New York Times, April 11, 1995

Although there will be some speculation that Petttitte’s announcement is related to Roger Clemens’ recent decision to waive the conflict of interest issue in his pending court trial, it seems as if the Yankees’ ace lefty could simply no longer resist the lure of spending more time with his family. By retiring, however, Pettitte is leaving behind another family of sorts, so you can bet the decision wasn’t easy, which probably explains why it was so long in coming.

Andy Pettitte is expected to officially waive goodbye to the Yankees at a Friday press conference.

Besides the obvious hole that Pettitte’s departure leaves in the team’s 2011 rotation, one of the biggest regrets resulting from the decision is Yankees’ fans weren’t able to bid him a proper farewell. There was no “Andy” serenade like Paul O’Neill received during the 2001 World Series, nor were there the daily standing ovations that greeted Bernie Williams before his final at bats (the fans seemed to realize Williams was nearing retirement even before the centerfielder did). Instead, there was just one more solid postseason start from a man who had developed a reputation for reliability. When Pettitte walked off the mound on October 18, 2010, after throwing seven innings of two-run, five-hit ball in game 3 of the ALCS, all eyes were on Cliff Lee. Ironically, on that night, the winningest pitcher in postseason history ended his career with an October loss. Instead of fanfare, there was anonymity. Although hardly a fitting end to a great career, being relegated to an afterthought probably suited Andy just fine.

Over the next few months, there will be plenty of opportunities to look back at the value of Pettitte’s career as well as look forward to what his absence means to the Yankees’ rotation. For now, however, the most appropriate reaction seems to be appreciation. Although hundreds of great players have worn the pinstripes, this recent generation of Yankees’ legends has still managed to stand out. Among them all, Pettitte has been front and center…not only as a great Yankee, but also as a good man.

Pettitte’s Place in Yankees History

  Value Rank
WAR 42.7 6
Wins 203 3
GS 396 2
Innings 2,535 2/3 4
Strikeouts 1,823 2

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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In New York circles, the Andy Pettitte retirement watch has taken on an almost Brett Favre-like quality. Perhaps because the Yankees have had such a quiet offseason, “no news” on the matter has been reported with grave seriousness. The latest example occurred last night when the Daily News reported that Brian Cashman said Pettitte would not start the season in 2011. That story quickly made the rounds around the baseball world, setting off a Twitter firestorm and causing great panic in Yankeeland.

Well, not so fast.

The media and fans have been fishing for definitive news about Pettitte, but the lefty has been busy with other pursuits.

Almost immediately after the original report was circulated, Cashman rebutted the inferences that were made from his comments and reiterated that nothing further had developed. In other words, Pettitte has still not made up his mind.

Pettitte’s indecision, the Yankees pressing need for his services, and the local media’s overreaction to the smallest developments are all direct parallels to the annual Brett Favre circus that has occurred over the past three years. Thankfully, however, the similarities stop there. For one thing, you can be sure that Pettitte’s holdout is not based on ego, but rather a genuine uncertainty about whether or not he still wants to play. What’s more, Pettitte has not been giving conflicted accounts of his intentions, nor has he been leaking his thoughts to favored members of the media. Finally, contrary to some Yankees’ fans insistence, he is not holding up the team’s preparation for 2011. Andy Pettitte is no Brett Favre.

Although losing Pettitte would be a blow to the Yankees, the urgency of his decision is not really as great as it may seem. After all, just look at Pettitte’s last three seasons in pinstripes. He pitched through an injury in 2008, had several starts skipped in 2009 and then missed two months in 2010. Based on that progression, it seems likely that even if Pettitte was already signed to a contract and working out like a devil, he would still miss a significant portion of 2011.

The Yankees don’t need Pettitte to make a decision about pitching the entire season because it’s likely that he can’t anyway. Just because the Yankees’ rotation has been weakened doesn’t mean the veteran lefty can turn back the hands of time. So, instead of trying to force Pettitte into returning by April, the Yankees might actually be better off if he settled on a mid-season start.

If Pettitte is going to miss a couple of months, it might as well be the first two of the season. Even though the division seems like a tall order with two-thirds of the opening day rotation still undecided, the Yankees remain a good bet for the wild card. Having a healthy Pettitte in October would be a vital part of another championship run, so that end game is ultimately what must dictate both Pettitte’s and the Yankees’ motivations. That’s why the if, and not the when, is the important question to answer.

Although it’s hard not fret at the notion of Pettitte actually retiring, that bridge doesn’t need to be crossed until the summer. In the meantime, the Yankees just need to hope that Pettitte will soon resume his offseason workouts…and, just to be safe, it might be a good idea if he avoided sending pictures from his cell phone.

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Cliff Lee’s return to Philadelphia put the Yankees into a bit of a tailspin, but a tacit expectation that Andy Pettitte would return allowed the team to continue to preach patience. Lately, however, the tea leaves have not been as favorable. In a press conference for the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl, Mark Teixeira stated that Pettitte is still leaning toward retirement, a reality that seems to have evoked a hint of desperation. Speaking at the same event, Yankees’ president Randy Levine all but pleaded for the lefty to return by admitting, “Every day I hope Andy comes back. I think he knows we need him”.

Randy Levine and the rest of the Yankees’ brass have been hoping for Andy Pettitte’s return, but will their prayers be answered?

Pettitte has never seemed like the type of guy to hold a grudge, but as he sits back on a Hawaii beach sipping a Mai Tai, you couldn’t blame him if Levine’s words were sweeter than the pineapple juice in his drink. After all, it was only two years ago when Pettitte was forced to return to the Yankees with hat in hand and accept an incentive laden deal. At that time, the Yankees had just signed C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, so the same urgency to re-sign the veteran lefty didn’t exist. Bargaining from a position of strength, the Yankees presented Pettitte with a “take it or leave it” offer of $10 million, which represented a significant pay cut from the $16 million salary he had earned the year before. After turning down that initial offer, Pettitte eventually agreed to a deal at the end of January. The terms of the contract he signed called for an even lower base salary of $5.5 million with incentives, nearly all of which he reached.

The bottom line is, I’m a man, and I guess it does take a shot at your pride a little bit. But when you put all that aside, I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. I wanted to be there and I wanted to play in that new stadium.” – Andy Pettitte, quoted in The New York Times, January 26, 2009

Needless to say, Pettitte won’t be forced to accept a below market deal this time around. Over the course of a few short months, the services of the veteran have gone from a luxury to an absolute necessity, so now it is Pettitte who holds all the cards. Of course, that assumes that he even wants to play. With anyone else, you could be sure that the song and dance about retirement was really a ploy intended to drive up the Yankees’ offer, but Pettitte’s indecision is likely genuine. Otherwise, his agent would also be soliciting offers from elsewhere, and that doesn’t seem to be the case.

If he decides to return, the Yankees would be more than happy to have Pettitte exact a small pound of flesh in the contract negotiations. Even though the team would still have work to do on its rotation, the return of Pettitte would provide them with enough leeway to continue practicing the art of patience. Should Pettitte actually retire, however, it could finally be time to push the panic button. All of a sudden, reclamation projects like Brad Penny, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia and Chris Young would become vital parts of the Yankees’ 2011 blueprint, which isn’t exactly a championship architecture.

The Yankees definitely need Andy Pettitte, and he knows it. But, does he need the Yankees? Somewhere amid the surf and sand, that question is being considered. Whether it’s with money, personal appeals or the lure of historical accomplishment, the Yankees need to do everything possible to influence the eventual decision. Otherwise, the entire organization will probably have the opportunity to join Pettitte on that beach early in October.

Reachable Team Milestones for Andy Pettitte

Rk Player WAR   Player W
1 Whitey Ford 55.3   Whitey Ford 236
2 Mariano Rivera 52.9   Red Ruffing 231
3 Red Ruffing 49.7   Andy Pettitte 203
4 Ron Guidry 44.4   Lefty Gomez 189
5 Lefty Gomez 43.2   Ron Guidry 170
6 Andy Pettitte 42.7   Bob Shawkey 168
Rk Player K   Player GS
1 Whitey Ford 1956   Whitey Ford 438
2 Andy Pettitte 1823   Andy Pettitte 396
3 Ron Guidry 1778   Red Ruffing 391
4 Red Ruffing 1526   Mel Stottlemyre 356
5 Lefty Gomez 1468   Ron Guidry 323

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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