Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pure Class: Farewell to Andy Pettitte

One of my favorite baseball moments happened two years ago at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. In a close Blue Jays Yankees game I got to see Mariano Rivera strike out Frank Thomas looking to end the game. As entertaining and amazing as the moment was, I was equally delighted to finally watch one Andrew Eugene Pettitte pitch in person. It is a memory I will forever treasure now that the lefty with the laser eyes has trotted off the mound for the last time.

Although Chip wrote a brief post about Andy Pettitte's impending retirement already, I'd be remiss if I didn't add my own personal thoughts. What kind of Yankee fan would I be? Tomorrow Andy Pettitte will host a press conference announcing his retirement from baseball after a brilliant 16 year career. Although you could make a case for Ron Guidry, I believe that next to Whitey Ford, Andy Pettitte is the best Yankee pitcher of all-time. With a career record of 240-138, Pettitte leaves behind a winning percentage of .635 with 2,251 Ks. A paint the corners pitcher with an amazing sinker and an even better cut fastball, Pettitte never had a season where he walked over 89 batters. In addition his pick-off move was the best in baseball, good for at least five to ten outs a year and he was a work horse, racking up over 200 innings in ten out of the sixteen seasons he pitched.

In the post season Andy was lights out most of the time. With an all-time record 19 post season victories, Pettitte's best game came in only his second year at the age of twenty-four. In a key Game Five matchup with the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series, Pettitte out-dueled Cy Young winner John Smoltz, going 8 1/3 innings allowing only five hits. The Yanks went on to win 1-0 and take the Series in Game 6. You can't discount his veteran savvy in the Yankees 2009 championship run either. At the age of thirty-seven, Andy Pettitte won the series clincher in the ALDS, the ALCS, and the World Series.

Although my co-contributors don't put a lot of stock in "intangibles" it's hard to discount some of Pettitte's. His work ethic was second to none and he was the anchor that often kept that pitching staff together. Aside from being a great club house guy, Pettitte also led by example. His record after a Yankees loss is quite impressive.

New York is also a city that appreciates tough guys and for my money there weren't a lot of pitchers tougher than Pettitte. There was many a time I saw him on the mound gutting it out even though it was obvious his shoulder, or his elbow were bothering him. Unfortunately it was probably his desire to help the Yankees win that drove him to use HGH in 2002. Pettitte has admitted he used HGH because he felt an obligation to return to the team as quickly as possible. Call me myopic, but I believed Pettitte and I still believe him today. Unlike that delusional megalomaniac Roger Clemens, one of the most glory hungry, self serving, and egotistical pitchers ever to mount a pitcher's mound, Pettitte was forthright and honest. It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong (ya listening Roger the Dodger?) especially when he's in the glaring lights of New York City.
Equally as important as his skill on the field were Pettitte's actions off the field. A family man with four children, Pettitte never sought the spotlight but was often active in the community. A man of faith, he also never flaunted his religion but was happy to talk about it if approached. Always accessible with the media and the fans, the 6' 5" 225 lb native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana never shied away from a autograph or a handshake. In an era when too many pro athletes are classless, Pettitte was just all class.

I hold no delusions that Pettitte will one day be a Hall of Famer. His ERA of 3.88 is less than stellar and he never won the Cy Young. But I'll always remember his laser intense focus on the mound, his easy smile, and his big game heroics. Moreover, I think I'll remember Pettitte the man as much as Pettitte the pitcher.
In the "City that Never Sleeps" Pettitte gave New Yorkers something to stay awake for every fifth day. And for that we were all blessed.

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