Friday, February 04, 2011

Andy Pettitte Retires

(Photo:Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
Who are the greatest pitchers in the history of the New York Yankees?  I think we all agree that Whitey Ford is the greatest - 236 wins, a champion, 1961 Cy Young Award and so on.

After that, things can get a little murky.  They're the Bronx Bombers after all.  Red Ruffing deserves to second.  A right-hander that was cast off by the Red Sox, he won 273 games.

But what about the lefties?  Whitey Ford, obviously, Lefty Gomez is likely second (189 wins), and then?  For me, I'm going to say Ron Guidry, who could flat-out dominate, most notably in one of the greatest seasons I've ever seen - his brilliant 1978 year of 25-3.

Then?  Andy Pettitte.

It's not knock to put Andy Pettitte fourth among lefties, and probably in the top five Yankees pitchers ever.  I don't think of him as a Hall of Famer (and neither does he), but I think of him as one of the greats.  He was - beyond a doubt - the right guy to get the last start in the old Stadium.  He gave the Yankees and their fans some amazing moments.

He was this kid who appeared on our radar in 1995, right on the verge of a dynasty.  This happened to be the first year that we glanced at some kids: a converted second baseman to catcher named Posada...a starting pitcher who came out of the pen in the playoffs named Rivera...and a first round draft pick shortstop who sat on the bench to get a flavor of the playoffs.  Name?  Obviously Jeter.

Pettitte was the first one to stay full-time of the "Core Four."  He's the first to walk away.

We saw him go 12-9 in that '95 wild card year.  He pitched in Game 2 of that wild series and got a no-decision.  The next year was the explosion.  He went 21-8, and was a deserving Cy Young candidate (losing to Pat Hentgen).  Every time that team went on a losing streak, there was Andy, turning things around.  Though not great to begin the playoffs, he got better as they went along, and delivered a mammoth start in Game 5 of the World Series, outdueling John Smoltz in Atlanta over eight-and-a-third.  Thinking about the way he fielded his position in the sixth inning of that game will bring a smile to any fan.  First, nailing Smoltz at third on a sacrifice bunt, then starting an inning-ending double play.

Oh we saw bad also.  He was a eyelash away from becoming a Phillie in 1998, and struggled in his ALCS start against the Indians.  Jim Thome's home run hasn't landed yet.  Fortunately "El Duque" Hernandez and Boomer Wells righted the ship in the season of 125 wins.  And then there was that absolute stinker of a performance in 2001 - when the Yankees had taken all momentum back in that World Series.  Pettitte's rough start in Game 6 set the stage for Game 7.

But those are hiccups.  Hard to argue with an otherwise wonderful career.  It's tough to think about those Astros years - because he should have been in New York, but he wasn't.  Instead he and his one-time buddy, Roger Clemens, went to Houston, and pitched to a World Series appearance in 2005.  Thankfully he came back, and was so big in gaining his fifth ring in 2009.

OK, let's deal with the HGH thing.  The catcalls have begun about that hindering his Hall of Fame credentials.  Those who know are aware that I'm sick of that whole conversation.  I have a hard time condemning Pettitte off a stupid decision to take something because he wanted to get healthy and get back on the field.  Is anyone foolish enough to think that Andy Pettitte was a juicer otherwise?

It disappointed me, for sure.  But since we know - WE KNOW - that there are others who haven't been "outed", then we are we going to knock Pettitte?  Because the Mitchell Report did so, and Pettitte himself had the decency to look everyone in the eye and say "my bad?"

If Andy Pettitte isn't a Hall of Famer, it will be because he just didn't accomplish enough.  Not enough wins.  No Cy Young Awards.  Stuff like that.  Funny thing is, Curt Schilling will get in.  go compare their numbers.  Schilling is going to the Hall but Andy Pettitte isn't?  I'm going to let that hang right there...

We'll miss the class.  We'll miss the grace.  We'll miss that hat pulled down to the point that you could barely see the eyes staring back between the brim and his glove.  We'll miss the pickoffs.  We'll miss the winning.

We'll miss Andy Pettite.

With his departure we begin to face our own mortality, really.  It's that point when we have to say goodbye to our heroes that we realize it isn't forever.

Brian Cashman sat in the press conference, looking to me like he was sick.  He needs to go find a pitcher.

Andy Pettitte isn't coming back.

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