Yankees Most Likely Losing Not One, But Two Icons…
Added by Steven Simineri on August 30, 2013.
Yankees most likely losing not one, but two icons…
Perfect time to appreciate Andy Pettitte…
This baseball season has been one big farewell tour for the Yankees iconic closer Mariano Rivera, and rightfully so. He’s been showered with lovely parting gifts and standing ovations at each ballpark he’s entered for the final time. The 43-year old marvel even received a tribute from his fellow All-Stars at Citi Field in July, where he took home the game MVP award. While the reality is starting to set in that there wouldn’t be many more nights with No. 42 jogging out from the bullpen to “Enter Sandman,” another Yankee icon is quietly approaching the finish line of his career with far less fanfare.
Andy Pettitte has done the retirement thing once before, after 2010, and there’s good reason to believe he will ride off into the sunset for good with his fellow core four buddy when the season concludes. His eyes are still of the kid who won 21 games back in ’96, but they sit beneath graying hair and declining results. It’s been a tumultuous eighteenth season for the oldest starting pitcher in baseball, as he spent time on the disabled list, won his 250th game and set the Yankees all-time strikeout mark — surpassing the great Whitey Ford, who held the top spot for nearly 50 years.
The “Chairman of the Board,” was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974 and he’s easily the greatest Yankee starter to ever wear pinstripes. Of course, Rivera is the most dominant pitcher in team history, but if we’re talking about starters, the only other names even in the conversation are fellow Hall of Famers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez. However, since being taken in the 22nd round of the 1990 draft, Pettitte has quietly added his name to the discussion.
The lefty from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been pitching deep into games and shutting down opposing hitters for almost two decades now — he made his major league debut back on April 29th, 1995, and except for a pit stop in Houston during the early part of the last decade, he’s been with New York ever since. No Yankee anytime soon is breaking his record of 1,990 punch-outs and counting. His 218 wins rank third behind only Ford (236) and Ruffing (231), who are also the only ones to have tossed more innings. Pettitte’s 432 starts trail only Ford’s 438, and his Yankee WAR of 57.2 is better than Ford’s mark of 55.4.
There are only eight other starters whose Yankee careers lasted more than 2,000 innings and whose ERAs over that time were at least 10% better than league average. Of those, three were from the dead-ball era: Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, and Bob Shawkey. The fourth is ex-pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and the other four are Ford, Ruffing, Gomez and Ron Guidry. When ERA+, WAR, strikeouts, wins and WHIP are all factored in, Pettitte stands smack in the middle of the famed group.
When factoring everything in, he’s probably the third best pitcher in the team’s storied history, because Gomez and “Louisiana Lightning” simply didn’t do it for nearly as long. Unfortunately, the 41-year old Pettitte wouldn’t be doing it for much longer and soon the only place to see him and his good friend Rivera will be at Old Timer’s day. The greatest closer ever will head to Cooperstown in five years and, perhaps, one day Pettitte will join the person who has saved 72 of his victories.
In all, what you make of Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case depends on what you make of the Hall of Fame. He has been a 21-game winner twice, a key part of teams that won eight pennants and ridden atop five parade floats. With seven shutout innings Tuesday night in Toronto, he collected his 255th victory, moving him ahead of Jack Morris and Hall of Famer Red Faber for sole possession of 42nd place on the career wins list — at 260 wins, Ted Lyons (currently 41st on the leaderboard) is probably out of reach.
It will be quite some time before another pitcher reaches the 250 win plateau and amazingly of the 23 pitchers who have reached the mark over the last 70 years, only five had fewer losses at the time of their 250th win than Pettitte: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver. Many critics will say that victories do not matter as much anymore in assessing a pitcher’s worth, but for Hall of Fame voters, they have mattered quite a bit.
Of the 46 pitchers who had previously won 250 or more games, only 8 have reached eligibility for induction and not been elected to the Hall. Of those, four played in the 19th-century dead ball era, three are considered borderline (Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Morris), and one is of course Clemens. Morris, will be on his final ballot this winter after receiving 67.7% of the votes in January and he just so happens to be one of Pettitte’s greatest comparisons.
The two have eerily comparable résumés: similar career win totals and ERAs, key members of multiple World Series champions, big postseason moments and both even had their greatest moment at the expense of John Smoltz. Morris may have pitched a 10-inning shutout in a Game 7 of the World Series, but Pettitte is the winningest pitcher in postseason history with a 19-11 record over 44 career playoff starts. He also gets a major boost because in his career he’s pitched three times as many postseason innings as Morris to the same postseason ERA (3.81 to Morris’s 3.80) in a much more difficult era to succeed as a pitcher.
However, the biggest thing overshadowing Pettitte’s career may be his admission to using PEDs. He’s been connected to steroids and performance-enhancing drugs by sharing a strength and training coach with Clemens, and was supposedly named in a 2006 affidavit by relief pitcher Jason Grimsley. In the end he stood accountable, more than about 90 percent of the worldwide athletes who have been caught doping.
Even with the HGH stain on his record, he should mostly be remembered as a championship player with a fierce, yet humble resolve. There never was anything terribly exciting about the way he went about his business over the years. He wasn’t a strikeout pitcher; he appeared on just three All-Star teams and received CY Young votes in just five different seasons, but he thrived in big moments and as former manager Joe Torre said, “He’s as honest as the day is long.”
When the year ends in a month or so, he will most likely be honest with himself and go home for good. After setting a Yankee record a few starts ago by allowing a first inning run for an eight straight time, he has started to round back into form just as the Yankees need him the most, winning three straight starts. With only 29 games left on the calendar, Joe Girardi’s group sits 5 ½ games out of a wild card spot, and barring a miracle the Bombers will miss out on meaningful baseball for only the second time since Pettitte and the gang broke in the league in 1995.
The thing about Pettitte and Rivera is that they didn’t come back for simply another paycheck, but rather one last crack at that elusive sixth ring. The winningest active pitcher could have easily went back to his ranch in Deer Park, Texas, and the all-time saves leader could have called it a career after tearing his ACL last May. Both may not get the goodbyes they hoped for and there’s a good chance that “Mariano Rivera Day” on Sept.22 will be nothing but a meaningless game against the lowly San Francisco Giants.
No matter what, it will still be a special day, and so will Pettitte’s last home start in the Bronx. Unlike Rivera, he hasn’t announced to the world his future plans, but father time and his family are calling. He only has about five or six starts left and Yankee fans should make sure to soak in each outing because next season the team will be without not one, but two icons.