Many, many miles separate me from my Ladies… sisters. Yet the Yankee fans (current and former) among us sensed from each other a collective “NOOOOOOOO!” when we heard the news Thursday that Andy Pettitte decided to retire.
True, he had a hard time calling himself “retired” at the Yankees press conference this morning. I can’t blame the guy. This was his trade for almost two decades. He has no idea what the future has in store outside of spending more time with his family. If you watched any of that press conference, you could tell that wasn’t lip service: Pettitte is genuinely happy to now have the time to watch his kids grow up.
No, Yankees fans don’t want to think of him as retired. I always thought he could keep playing at a high level for a few more years. He just seemed to be getting better with age – check out his dropping ERA and WHIP the last few years if you don’t believe me. True, as any athlete ages, it’s increasingly difficult to bounce back from injury. But Pettitte always had decent pitching mechanics, was generally reliable, and presented so much poise and calm on the mound particularly in his last few seasons. You have to wonder: if he didn’t lose two-and-a-half months due to that groin injury, would he have looked at 2011 in a different light?
A reporter asked at the press conference why Pettitte seemed to have been treated differently by the media and fans after his admission to using performance enhancing drugs a few years back. To me, the answer was obvious: Pettitte had enough strength of character to admit he screwed up and for the most part people respected that. This isn’t to dismiss what he did – taking that shit is incredibly irresponsible and there’s no amount of team loyalty that justifies the use of PEDs. But Andy told the truth and moved on. Other players caught up in their own PED-related circuses could have learned from Pettitte – A-Rod at the very least.
Pettitte was with the team from the moment I started following the Yankees, so this is a tough one for me to take. I had so much fun watching those late 90s through 2001 teams, even when they managed to make it to the dance but fell short of winning a championship. Tino, Bernie, Brosius, Cone, O’Neill…now Pettitte. I said to the Ladies… that I was so grateful to have watched him pitch in person in 2009, even if it was in a losing effort on a night that was all about Derek Jeter.
And so Yankee fans face a spring training without the rock of our rotation. Many of us had a feeling this day would come – we didn’t want to believe it. When you’re such a fan, you never do. It’s not like it’s necessarily the first time – we lost him to the Astros after the 2003 season. Sometimes I wonder if the 2004 ALCS would have turned out any differently had the Red Sox had to face him. But what’s done is done.
I always felt these last few seasons were borrowed time with fans and Pettitte. Perhaps that’s why I found these last few seasons the most special (even 2008, when the whole team had a crummy year and Pettitte went 14-14).
The Hall of Fame talk has already started. There are two trains of thought on the subject. Personally, I find it hard to believe that the all-time leader in postseason wins – a winner of five World Series championships – isn’t Hall of Fame material. But he’s already forged his place in Yankee lore. I’ll miss Andy’s smoldering stare behind that glove and how well he worked with Posada. I’ll miss how pissed off he looks whenever he lets a home run get away from him (you’ve seen him in the postseason – you know the look I mean). I’ll miss his calm demeanor and grace on the mound. I’ll miss that sweet Louisiana accent. I’ll miss the best lefty I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime.