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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #10 Andy Pettitte

A homegrown talent with a left arm to envy, Pettitte offered both reliability and a knack for big playoff moments.

Texas Rangers v New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

Full Name: Andrew Eugene “Andy” Pettitte
Position: Starting Pitcher
Born: June 15, 1972 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Yankee Years: 1995-2003, 2007-10, 2012-13
Primary number: 46
Yankee statistics: 219-127, 2,796.1 IP, 2,020 K, 3.94 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 447 GS, 24 CG, 115 ERA+, 57.1 fWAR, 51.3 rWAR

Biography

The human brain is fascinating in that sometimes, all it takes is one word to immediately bring a particular memory to mind. “Cheeseburger” might take you to a memorable scene in Pulp Fiction. “Barrel” could summon memories of Donkey Kong.

As for the word “stare,” only one image comes to mind for the Yankees fans who were lucky enough to grow up watching a dynasty.

One of the most consistent and steady pitchers in Yankees history, Pettitte gave New Yorkers 15 years of his absolute best and owns multiple franchise regular seasons and playoff records. His visage was an oh-so-familiar presence every October, and he became a beloved figure in the Bronx en route to five World Series titles.

The Early Years

Pettitte was born in Louisiana but was adopted by Texas. He was still a little kid in third grade when his family relocated. The tall left-hander had started playing baseball at a very young age in Louisiana Little League, and had a family that helped cultivate the love for the game on him, as they built a mound for young Andrew to throw off of in the yard.

Father Tommy Pettitte was a police officer when Andy was a kid, but when the family moved to Deer Park (20 minutes outside Houston), Tommy took a job at a chemical plant. Things started to get serious for Andy when he became a pitcher at Deer Park High School. By this time, he was already in love with the game and looked up to two Texas greats: Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.

The shy Andy wasn’t very interested in school itself, but he was quite the athlete. His fastball was already in the high 80s. He was a very promising pitcher and a solid athlete, since he also played football like many young athletes in Texas. He was a center on offense and a nose guard on defense.

Baseball was always his first interest, though. When the 1990 MLB Draft came around, the Yankees took Pettitte in the 22nd round. However, the hurler chose to join the San Jacinto College North Gators, a junior college program that helped kick his velocity up to 91-93 mph under coach Wayne Graham. The Yankees still had his draft rights because Pettitte signed with a JUCO and not for a regular four-year program. That’s why Pettitte ended up actually signing his first pro contract almost a year after being drafted, in late May 1991, and got an $80,000 bonus. Graham tried to convince the teenager to hold out for the ‘91 draft to cash in even more, but frustrated by the entire process, Pettitte simply wanted to sign and get his professional career started.

Pettitte spent four full seasons in the minors, and it wasn’t until he’d completed the last of those that the industry writ large truly took notice.

Prince William Cannons
Pettitte with the Prince William Cannons (1993)
Photo by Diamond Images/Getty Images

But the southpaw slowly, steadily rose through the farm system as he spent near-entire seasons at different levels of A-ball from 1992-93 before really impressing in ‘94. Backed by a 2.71 ERA and 1.068 WHIP at Double-A Albany-Colonie, Pettitte got a midseason promotion to Triple-A, and he kept posting commendable numbers with a 2.98 ERA and 1.262 WHIP in Columbus. That earned him organizational 1994 Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors among Baby Bombers.

Baseball America ranked him as the 49th-best prospect in baseball prior to the start of ‘95. So when the Yankees had an opening on their roster, Andy Pettitte was ready to go.

Andy in the Big Apple

It became clear that Pettitte was going to be a building block for a long time: a true member of the Core Four, together with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. They weren’t an iconic quartet just yet though. That year, in fact, Pettitte was the primary MLB contributor with Rivera middling and both Jeter and Posada still Triple-A players for the better part of ‘95.

Pettitte actually lost a spring training competition with Sterling Hitchcock for a rotation spot and opened the year in the bullpen. Even Rivera was getting starts over him. Since the Yanks wanted Andy to get back starting, they sent him to the minors for a short spell. Eventually, however, injuries to Jimmy Key, Scott Kamieniecki and Mélido Pérez forced the team’s hand and he became a rotation staple for years.

Trusted by manager Buck Showalter to hold it down, Pettitte wouldn’t leave the regular rotation for the rest of his career.

In that first campaign, Pettitte posted a more-than-serviceable 4.17 ERA and 111 ERA+ in 175 innings, notching 12 wins and 114 strikeouts. Only Marty Cordova and Garret Anderson would surpass him in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

That 1995 season would mark the Yankees’ return to the playoffs for the first time since winning the pennant in 1981. Pettitte made his first career postseason start in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Mariners and outlasted former All-Star Andy Benes while mixing in some pickoffs to boot. The latter was gone by the sixth, and Pettitte had a 3-2 lead when Showalter asked him to back out for the seventh. The top of the Seattle lineup got to him for a couple runs and he exited after seven innings, though the Yankees ended up coming back to win it.

There would be no second playoff start for Pettitte in ‘95, as the M’s stormed back to take the series. Nonetheless, it would be a sign of things to come: the dynasty years were just around the corner.

A Dynasty Born, With Andy On Board

On another timeline where the Yankees’ opinions of their two top young lefties were flipped, Pettitte might have been Seattle-bound. The Mariners had indeed asked for him as part of the package to bring Tino Martinez to New York. But with valued Pettitte advocates like Gene Michael, Tony Cloninger, and Joe Robison in the ear of new GM Bob Watson, he insisted on Hitchcock instead. The M’s were more interested in involving the likes of Russ Davis and potentially Posada, so they relented. In the end, they only got Davis and Hitchcock, while the Yankees held onto their soon-to-be key battery.

The 1996 campaign represented an inflection point in the story of Andy Pettitte. It was the year he went from a nice young talent to an essential part of new manager Joe Torre’s upcoming dynasty. Fresh off an overwhelmingly good season on offense in ‘95, Cleveland was held to just one run in 6.2 innings at home in Pettitte’s first start of the year on April 3rd. He won that one, and he did the same a few days later, even as a Texan pitching in the snow:

For the most part, the brilliance would continue all year long. He made his first All-Star team, finished runner-up to Toronto’s Pat Hentgen in AL Cy Young Award voting, and won 21 games with a 3.87 ERA (129 ERA+) and 162 strikeouts.

That would be worthy of applause for any 24-year-old, but it was made all the more eye-opening when he admitted to Joel Sherman years later that his elbow was “never right” following an emergency relief appearance in Baltimore during a 15-inning marathon on May 1st. Per Sherman, there were times when Pettitte couldn’t even straighten out his elbow, and he was worried about his career. While it was painful, the Yankees’ medical staff assured him that there was nothing structurally wrong with him and he did not need surgery. So Pettitte pitched through it and impressively thrived despite the adversity.

With ace David Cone missing most of ‘96 due to an aneurysm, veteran Jimmy Key doing everything he could to stay healthy, and inconsistency throughout the rest of the rotation, Torre came to deeply value the young southpaw Pettitte. He kept the staff afloat and the team narrowly ahead of the second-place O’s all summer.

Yankee Killer Juan González took Pettitte deep twice during his ALDS Game 2 start against Texas, but even with shaky control the dingers costing him four runs in total, he held the rest of the Rangers to two hits in 6.1 innings. With a little help, New York won in extras and didn’t need their big lefty again as they advanced to an ALCS date with destiny against those irritant O’s. The start in the opener tested his guile, as he needed 121 pitches to get through seven innings of four-run ball. Again with a little help, it was enough for the Yankees to stay close and take it in extras. Tasked in Game 5 at Camden Yards with winning New York’s first pennant in 15 years, Pettitte delivered his first playoff gem: eight innings, three hits, two runs, and no sweat. The Yankees were going to the Fall Classic.

The defending champion Atlanta Braves won the first two games of that World Series in the Bronx and outscored the Yanks 16-1. Pettitte opened Game 1 and was shelled for seven runs in 2.1 frames. But the real Yankees showed up from Game 3 onward and took four in a row to win it all. On the road in Atlanta and matched up with NL Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz, Pettitte threw the game of his life in Game 5. Armed with a new game plan thanks to a better outside heater than he typically had, the southpaw spun 8.1 innings of shutout ball, showed poise on defense, and delivered a 1-0 win when Paul O’Neill chased down Luis Polonia’s deep fly ball in the ninth.

The Yankees were World Series champions for the first time since 1978, and they had a bona fide homegrown lefty paired with team leader Cone at the front of the rotation.

Pettitte followed up that magical 1996 with what was probably his finest performance in pinstripes in 1997. That year, he threw a career-high 240.1 innings and posted a 2.88 ERA with an 18-7 record and 166 punchouts, impressively allowing just seven homers — an MLB-best 0.3 HR/9. By both modern versions of WAR (8.4 per B-Ref, 7.2 per FanGraphs), it was even better than the ‘96 campaign that made him a household name in New York. He was fifth in the AL Cy Young voting in a year in which future Yankee Clemens went bonkers with a 2.05 ERA in 264 innings. However, the Bombers fell to a determined Cleveland club in a five-game Division Series. Andy felt the anguish from that series, as two of his worst starts of ‘97 had led to ALDS losses.

The Yankees would rebound to win the next three World Series in a row. From an individual standpoint, 1998-2000 oddly represented a slight step back for Pettitte, who did yeoman’s work with 32 starts and over 200 innings per season, but with a 4.42 ERA. Although the inflated numbers around the game at the time meant that this was still above league-average (105 ERA+), it fell below both his expectations and George Steinbrenners. Indeed, the Boss was nearly successful in pushing young GM Brian Cashman to send him to the Phillies at the 1999 Trade Deadline.

Despite the regular-season inconsistency, Pettitte buoyed his case by shaking off his ‘97 playoff duds and returning to the form he flashed in the ‘96 postseason. It would be in this span of three years that Pettitte bolstered his vast October legacy.

A Postseason Star

In 11 starts and 69 October innings from 1998 to 2000, Pettitte boasted a 3.26 ERA and a 6-1 record. In the Fall Classic, he would have a 2.92 ERA in four starts over that span. In each year among those three, there was at least one playoff outing to remind some of the up-and-down regular seasons — the homer-happy 1998 ALCS Game 4 in Cleveland comes to mind — but those proved to be outliers. His 7.1 shutout innings in the ‘98 Fall Classic (as seen above) put New York on the brink of a sweep, and he pitched into the eighth in back-to-back starts as the Yankees eliminated Texas and Boston en route to the ‘99 pennant.

When New York iced its three-peat in the 2000 postseason, Pettitte was their most reliable starter, and he saved his best for last. Given his first World Series Game 1 nod since ‘96, he went 6.2 innings of three-run ball against the gritty Mets before José Vizcaíno walked it off. Then with a chance to close out the Amazins at Shea in Game 5, the only two runs allowed in seven frames were unearned. Another bench infielder became a hero and the Yankees won it all.

Pettitte would go 15-10 with a solid 3.99 ERA in 2001, earning his second All-Star berth. That was a heartbreaking year for the Yanks, though, who were walked off and lost the Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the previous round Pettitte was huge and won ALCS MVP honors with a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 frames vs. the Seattle Mariners. But pitch-tipping issues led to a disaster in World Series Game 6 and Andy ended his ‘01 campaign in disgust.

Two bouts of left elbow tendinitis slowed Pettitte down in 2002. At this point, things would get a little hairy. To help his elbow heal, he took multiple doses of human growth hormone from trainer Brian McNamee. He would admit to doing it again in 2004. It’s a stain in an otherwise flawless career, but he did accept his mistake and apologize to his teammates.

Pettitte was an important part of the Yankees’ rotation in 2003, a season that, together with 2004, would represent the climax of the rivalry against the Boston Red Sox in modern history. For the second time in Pettitte’s career, he was a 21-game winner, as he tossed 208.1 innings with a 4.02 ERA (110 ERA+) and a career-high 180 strikeouts.

That October, Pettitte was the definition of a stopper. The Yankees lost Game 1 in all three playoff rounds. Every time, Torre turned to his southpaw seeking a Game 2 recovery. Every time, he delivered.

Pettitte struck out 10 Twins and allowed one run in seven during ALDS Game 2. He got the better of sinker specialist Derek Lowe in ALCS Game 2 by holding the potent ‘03 Red Sox to two runs in 6.2 innings. Then after New York lost the Aaron Boone Game 7 hangover World Series opener to Florida, Pettitte was a Boone error away from shutting out the Marlins in a Game 2 victory.

The southpaw was brilliant in both Fall Classic starts against Florida, with a 0.57 ERA in 15.2 frames, but the team was stunned by a pesky Marlins team with burgeoning stars in Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera. Had the Yanks won, Pettitte had a case for World Series MVP. As it stood, his career in New York might have been over.

An Astros Detour and a Return

For one reason or another, Steinbrenner’s mid-dynasty skepticism about Pettitte lingered. They never came particularly close on an extension, and he hit free agency following 2003. The Yankees continued to take him for granted and while Steinbrenner wined and dined the likes of Gary Sheffield, Pettitte wasn’t given much of a pursuit. So when the close-to-home Houston Astros approached him, he was all ears.

Houston offered Pettitte a three-year, $31.5 million contract. At the last minute, the Yankees finally seemed to realize that they might lose him and put up $39 million. But Andy had already given the Astros his word, and he didn’t want to go back on it. So it was that Pettitte became an Astros and then-good friend Clemens quickly unretired to join him there.

Limited by elbow woes to 16 starts in ‘04, Pettitte missed that playoff run but rebounded in ‘05 with a career-best 2.33 ERA (177 ERA+) in 222.1 innings with 6.8 rWAR. He was touched up in the NLCS opener by St. Louis but otherwise delivered three quality starts for Houston en route to their first pennant in franchise history.

The Astros were swept out of the World Series by the Chicago White Sox, and took a dip on ‘06. Once that three-year contract expired, the kindling of a Bronx return was already lit. Pettitte was already thinking about retirement, but he came to the Yankees on a one-year, $16 million deal. All sides were thrilled that he was back.

New York Yankees Introduce Andy Pettitte
Pettitte stands in Yankee Stadium after a press conference announcing his return to the Yankees
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Andy would ultimately be a mainstay in the Yankees’ staff for four seasons until 2010, when he decided to hang up his spikes. His numbers in this stint would be pretty solid (110 ERA+, 3.89 FIP) and it would include his fifth and final World Series championship in 2009.

That year, the lefty had a 4.16 ERA in 194.2 innings. However, as Pettitte always seemed to do, he took it up a notch in the playoffs, with a 4-0 record and a 3.52 ERA in 30.2 frames. He took a page out of his pal Rivera’s book and essentially served as the closer for each playoff round, delivering clinching victories over the Twins, Angels, and finally the Phillies. The finale was especially good, as the 37-year-old Pettitte was pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in three years. He still had the goods.

The 2010 campaign also would mark the last time Pettitte would go to an All-Star Game, as he sported an 11-3 record with a 3.28 ERA in 129 frames. A groin injury limited him in the second half, but he would be ready come October.

After a pair of seven-inning, two-run starts in the playoffs and a disappointing team loss to the Rangers in the ALCS, the homesick Pettitte retired. There was a press conference and everything to announce the end.

New York Yankee Andy Pettitte Announces Retirement Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Pettitte even threw out a ceremonial first pitch during the playoffs. The excellent 16-year career was truly over.

Until it wasn’t.

Pettitte was a spring training instructor in early 2012, but he started to get the itch to come back. He told the Yankees about it, and they closely guarded this secret as he tested out his elbow in bullpen sessions. At age 40, Pettitte formally decided to make a comeback, and the Yankees made room.

As it turned out, the 2012 Yanks were lucky that the veteran returned to them. Due to various injuries and struggles, the rotation was lacking outside of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. Pettitte suffered a broken leg on a line drive in late June, but he still delivered a much-appreciated 2.87 ERA (148 ERA+) and 1.142 WHIP in 12 starts. A fun highlight came when he got to school a young Bryce Harper during a June outing against the ascendant Nationals.

The Yankees fought hard with the O’s and didn’t win the AL East until the final day of the regular season. Without Pettitte, they probably would have ended up in the Wild Card Game against Texas. In what would be the final playoff outings of his career, Pettitte put up a 3.29 ERA with a mere .614 OPS against across starts against Baltimore and Detroit. They would fall to the Tigers in the ALCS.

The spotlight was on Rivera throughout 2013, as he announced that he would retire. But come September, Pettitte revealed that he would be joining his longtime pal in retirement as well. He wasn’t going to go back on this one, either, but he was reliable as ever in ‘13 with a 3.74 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 185.1 frames at age-41. (The Yankees would be so lucky to get that from anyone in their rotation outside of Gerrit Cole in 2024.)

The mediocre Yankees missed the playoffs that year and were already eliminated by the time Pettitte made his final start. So he fully emptied the tank back home in Houston on September 28th, turning back the clock for his first complete game in seven years. The crafty veteran surrendered just five hits and one run on 116 pitches, defeating the Astros for his 256th and final big-league victory.

A Franchise Icon and a Record-Setter

To this day, Pettitte is still the pitcher with the most wins in postseason history with 19. He also paces MLB in innings pitched (276.2), starts (44), and is fourth in strikeouts (183). This is, of course, partially a result of expanded playoffs and more opportunities to get those nods on perennial playoff teams, but not everyone could stick around that long or remain such a key contributor to so many of those great clubs.

Pettitte is third on the Yankees’ all-time rankings in wins (219) and innings pitched (2,796.1). He also leads them in starts (438, tied) and strikeouts (2,020), having passed the legendary Whitey Ford in 2013.

An underrated aspect of Pettitte’s career was his incredible ability to pick off runners at first base. He accumulated 98 pickoffs in his big leagues tenure, thanks to his deceptive delivery and technique.

After retiring, the southpaw remained very much involved in the game, but first, he got to enjoy “Andy Pettitte Day” in Yankee Stadium on August 23, 2015. The team retired his now-famous No. 46 and gave him a plaque in Monument Park in an emotional day.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Pettitte and his wife are parents of four: a girl and three boys. They all played baseball at one point or another, just like their father. Andy has served as a coach and advisor for the Yankees (most recently this past season), Team USA, and even a high school team back home in Houston. There is just too much baseball knowledge in his head not to share it.

Even though he has never really received much support for the Hall of Fame — intriguing case be damned — Pettitte can say he had an amazing career. We’ve tried, but words cannot describe what he means to the Yankees. It was on his left arm that New York’s hopes of championship glory rested in the mid-to-late ‘90s. It was that same arm that offered fans the peace of mind of knowing they would be competitive in the regular season and, especially, in the postseason when he was on the mound. And it was on his shoulder that Mariano Rivera cried in his own last game in that 2013 campaign.

You can also credit him with teaching Sabathia a cutter to help him navigate his late-career years with the Yankees. Pettitte was, by all accounts, a fantastic teammate and a figure fans in New York could look up to. To this day, No. 46 is still dearly missed in the Bronx. He was a true franchise great during his time in the sun.

Staff rank: 10
Community rank: 18
Stats rank: 8
2013 rank: 11

References

Baseball Reference

Berk, Josh. SABR Bio

FanGraphs

Olney, Buster. Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty. New York: Ecco, 2004.

Texas Sports Hall of Fame

Sherman, Joel. Birth of a Dynasty. New York: Rodale, 2006.

Verducci, Tom and Joe Torre. The Yankee Years. New York: Doubleday, 2009.

YES Network

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