Friday, February 04, 2011

Pettitte ends a great career, but is it Hall worthy?

By Chris Ruddick,

Philadelphia, PA - I'm sure the New York Yankees had hoped for a different outcome, but if you had read the tea leaves coming from the Bronx these last couple of months nobody could have been surprised about Andy Pettitte's decision to call it quits after 16 major league seasons.

Pettitte had done this retirement dance with the Yankees over the past few offseasons, but always came back. This time his heart just wasn't into returning and he made it official on Friday, leaving the Yankees to continue to scour the free agent wire for warm bodies to slide into their rotation for the 2011 season.

For those keeping score at home, since being left at the alter by Cliff Lee, the Yankees have added Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon and most recently Freddy Garcia this winter. Not exactly the names you thought you'd hear once their season ended in Arlington.

Not having Pettitte, though, certainly can't be a surprise for general manager Brian Cashman, who hinted back at the Winter Meetings that the Yankees were probably going to be without their reliable left-hander this coming season.

Like every other Yankee fan on the planet, Cashman probably held on to the slimmest of hopes that he would return once Lee shocked the baseball world and chose Philadelphia, essentially leaving the Yankees high and dry.

As dire the situation may seem with regards to the Yankees rotation, you may want to hold off on their eulogy. Even without Pettitte, they boast a rotation that has perennial Cy Young Award candidate CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, who is just 24 years old and is coming off a season that saw him win 18 games.

Even if Pettitte had returned, the Yankees' starting pitching hinged on a bounce-back season from A.J. Burnett. Of course, having Pettitte would have softened the blow of another awful season from Burnett, but how much faith could the Yankees have had in a 38-year-old Pettitte, who missed more than two months last season because of an injury.

So whether it's Garcia, Colon, Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova or perhaps a youngster like Andrew Brackman, the Yankees have two spots to fill. Garcia was 12-6 in 28 starts last season with the White Sox. If he can do that for three months and the Yankees can tread water to the trade deadline, they will be fine. We all know there will be a starting pitcher available in July.

Let's not forget they still have a lineup that scored more runs than any in baseball last season and now with Rafael Soriano setting up Mariano Rivera, probably own the best bullpen in the league.

While it may be premature to write the Yankees off, let's not underestimate just how big a loss Pettitte is for the Bronx Bombers. As good as Sabathia is and as much potential as Hughes may have, is there any other pitcher the Yankees would rather have on the hill in a big spot than Pettitte?

Pettitte's 240 wins are the 13th most by a left-hander, while his remarkable 19 postseason victories are more than any pitcher in baseball history. His 203 Yankees victories put him third in franchise history, behind Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231), and his 1,823 strikeouts are second to Ford in Yankee annals.

New York first fell in love with Pettitte in 1995 when as a 23-year-old rookie he helped lead the Bronx Bombers back to the postseason for the first time in over a decade.

It wasn't until his second season in pinstripes, though, that the rest of the league started to take notice. Pettitte won 21 games that year, but it was his start in Game 5 of the World Series that made people realize just how special he really was.

That night, with the series tied at two games apiece, Pettitte outdueled Atlanta's John Smoltz, the NL Cy Young Award winner that year, as he scattered five hits over 8 1/3 scoreless frames to give the Yanks the advantage in a Fall Classic that they would eventually win.

Had Pettitte pitched his whole career in New York, he would own just about every Yankee pitching record and that, coupled with his postseason heroics, probably would have been enough to punch his ticket to Cooperstown. Not to say he wasn't good in those three years in Houston, but for whatever reason his career would have been looked at differently had he spent his entire 16 years in the Bronx.

Is he a Hall of Famer anyway? I don't know. Pettitte was great in the postseason. How many times did the Yankees call on Pettitte to get them back into a series? He was the Yankees stopper and every bit as big a part of those five World Series titles as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.

Baseball doesn't reward postseason play like, say the NFL. If this was football, Pettitte would tap dance his way into the Hall. But for some reason postseason play isn't held in as high regard in baseball. See Jack Morris.

Pettitte's overall numbers are borderline, but his postseason magic should be enough to push a normal player over the top.

Of course, there is that little old performance enhancing drug cloud that hangs over his head. Pettitte was involved with human growth hormone and in the end, that will be what ultimately keeps him out.

Not to mention we are probably all going to be reminded of Pettitte's performance enhancing drug use over the next few months, as he will be one of the key witnesses in the Roger Clemens trial.

It's a credit to Pettitte's character that you almost forget that he admitted to using HGH. Everyone loves to say Pettitte did it the right way. He admitted to it and people moved on. A lot of people haven't forgotten.

Well let's be honest, Pettitte admitted to it after it was already out there. A year before the Mitchell Report fingered him, Pettitte's name came up in the Jason Grimsley investigation. At that time, Pettitte could have done the right thing, but he said that it was an embarrassment that he was even linked with something like that.

Really, Andy? Did you forget about those HGH injections you took back in 2002 in order to get back to your team quicker?

Pettitte can put any spin on it that he wants. He said he only did it to help his team, he wasn't trying to gain an edge. So were Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, your BFF Clemens and the countless looking for an edge?

Sorry Andy not buying it.

As great of a clutch pitcher and as entertaining it was to watch Andy Pettitte in October, in my eyes and a lot of others, he is just one of those black marks in an era that will be remembered as one of the worst the sport has produced.

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