Andy Pettitte's retirement has me depressed, and I find myself wondering why. Sure, Pettitte was a remarkable pitcher. After all, 255 wins (218 with the Yankees) is nothing to sneeze at and his 44 post-season starts and 19 post-season wins show that he was a money pitcher. However, he played only every fifth day and was never the No. 1 starter on his own team, let alone the dominant pitcher of his era. Why am I so bummed?
We live in an age of entitlement, where ballplayers make more in a season than most of us earn in a lifetime. They are special and they know it. Some remind us of their special status in various ways, from lackadaisical play, to showboating after home runs (and sometimes after long fly balls), to self-important pronouncements that leave us scratching our heads. They remind us of the people we couldn't stand in high school. They live in neighborhoods we could never afford and rarely mingle with us common folk. Many won't even give an autograph unless they're paid and often treat fans like something you'd scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
Pettitte, however, was never like that. He is one of us, a regular guy. By all accounts, he is a genuinely nice man, devoted to his family and his faith. You get the feeling that if you ran into him in a supermarket, he would give you a smile and a courteous conversation. No one has a bad word to say about him. He's the kind of guy you want as your next-door neighbor. You can confidently point him out to your young son or daughter and say, "Watch that guy. That's a real major leaguer."
His arrival in the Bronx in 1995 wasn't seen as a big deal. He was a 22nd round draft pick who joined the rotation only because of an injury to Jimmy Key. He wasn't touted as a can't-miss prospect, like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. He simply came up and pitched like a 10-year veteran from the start.
His HGH use is one more sign that he's just like us. He made a stupid mistake just as we sometimes do. He didn't hide behind legal teams and crisis managers. No, he owned up to what he did, asked for forgiveness and moved on with his career and with his life, just as we like to think we would do.
Even Pettitte's departure to Houston, as painful as it was, bespeaks honor. The Yankees showed little interest in bringing him back, probably because George Steinbrenner was too busy wooing Gary Sheffield, who might charitably be called the anti-Pettitte. Even when the Yankees swooped in with a last-minute offer that beat Houston's, Pettitte declined because he had given the Astros his word. To a man like Pettitte, his word is as binding as any air-tight contract. He spurned an even higher offer from the Red Sox because he couldn't bring himself to play for the Yankees' hated rivals. In retrospect, his departure is more painful than ever because we all believe that the 2004 ALCS would have come out differently had Pettitte been there to pitch one of the last four games.
We all have our memories of special games Pettitte pitched. He was as steady as they come. Tanya has called him Ol' Reliable and that tag fits. Since Tommy Henrich is dead, we can pass his old nickname down to Pettitte without any feeling of guilt. I have a hunch that Henrich would heartily approve because he knew a winner when he saw one.
Pettitte's retirement is just one more sign that the page has turned, and that's another reason for sadness. When he and Rivera leave, only Derek Jeter will be left from the dynasty of the late ‘90s and who knows if Jeter will be able to play next year? As those days recede into the past, we realize just how special those teams and those players were and know that we may never see their likes again. When he and Jeter are gone, that era will be officially over.
Let's save the Hall of Fame talk for another day. Frankly, it shouldn't matter if Pettitte has to buy a ticket to get into Cooperstown because he gave us such wonderful memories. He also leaves a legacy of class and dignity. Some day, a few years from now, we'll be watching a lanky left-handed prospect on the mound and will give him the ultimate compliment: "Man, that kid looks a little like Andy Pettitte, doesn't he?"