Friday February 4th, 2011

Andy Pettitte is retiring with 240 career victories and another 19 postseason wins that helped the New York Yankees regain prominence -- and win five World Series championships. But that resume might not be good enough for Pettitte make the Hall of Fame.

A random survey of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the voting electorate for Cooperstown, suggests that it will be a long slog -- at best -- for Pettitte to make the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2015.

After 16 seasons, Pettitte, 38, is retiring so that he can spend more time with family in Deer Park, Texas, a Houston suburb. The general consensus among the voters is that Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who deserves strong consideration. The likely outcome: Good career, but not elite.

"I just don't see enough numbers there," says voter Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle. "His biggest play is that he was a big part of really good teams, that he won 19 times in the postseason and that the Yankees usually knew what they were going to get from him. He's really good, but the Hall of Fame is a level above that."

Still, the debate that started before Pettitte's official retirement announcement at Yankee Stadium on Friday morning will go on into the next decade. The lefty exits with a 240-138 record and a 3.88 ERA. He pitched at least 200 innings in 10 different seasons and led the American League in wins once -- 21 in 1996. He was also a league-leader for starts in three different seasons.

"It's not obvious at first, but it is worthy of a deeper analysis," says voter Jeff Blair of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. Blair says that Pettitte's case is a pitching version of that of outfielder Tim Raines, who received 37.5% of the 2011 vote.

The argument for Pettitte, drafted by the Yankees in 1990 and a three-time All-Star, is that for 13 seasons he thrived amid New York expectations and was known for durability, consistent winning and being a great teammate.

Along with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, Pettitte was a member of the Core Four that defined the Yankees' latest championship run that begin with a World Series title in 1996, the team's first since 1978.

The argument against Pettitte is that his postseason record is a result of opportunity and the Yankees' big-money payroll. Voters point out that he has never been a staff ace and didn't win a Cy Young Award, although he finished second once (1996).

"I honestly don't know how I'd vote," says Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune. "This won't be a slam-dunk for me either way. This will take thought and research. Two 20-win seasons in his era is nothing to sneeze at. But he never won a Cy Young, which means voters never considered him the best pitcher in any one season."

Pettitte's 240 wins are more than Hall of Fame pitchers Whitey Ford (236) and Catfish Hunter (224), and while it is difficult to compare eras, Ford and Hunter showed dominance.

Ford, a lefty with the Yankees who was inducted in 1974, led the AL in wins three times and ERA, shutouts, innings and starts twice each. He had seven complete games, three shutouts and 10 wins in 22 World Series games.

Hunter, who pitched for the Oakland Athletics and Yankees, was inducted in 1987 and won five World Series, including three with Oakland. He had five consecutive seasons of at least 21 wins, including leading the AL with 25 and 23 wins.

"If Andy Pettitte had pitched in Houston for most of his career and won 240 games, would we even be having this conversation?" asks voter Dave Van Dyke of the Chicago Tribune. "I tend to be a tough voter. Did he have 20 wins for six straight seasons? How many no-hitters did he have? Did he ever win a Cy Young?

"The thing with Pettitte is that there was never a period of five or six years when you'd say, 'Holy cow, he's the best pitcher in baseball.' He never dominated. That's the reason I never voted for Bert Blyleven. I don't think Pettitte is a Hall of Famer."

Pettitte came up with the Yankees in 1995, and while he'll always be remembered as a Yankee, he played three seasons for his hometown Houston Astros, winning 17 games for the Astros in 2005, the year they reached their first World Series.

Pettitte never played for a losing team and is one of eight pitchers with 240 wins and a .635 winning percentage. The list includes Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove and Jim Palmer. The others are Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina.

Pettitte's 203 wins rank third on the Yankees' all-time win list behind Ford and Red Ruffing. Pettitte's strikeouts (1,823) and starts (396) with the Yankees each rank second to Ford.

Pettitte is the career postseason leader in wins, going 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA. He had one postseason win for the Astros; won the World Series clincher for the Yankees twice, in 1998 and 2009; and was a key member of their title teams in 1996, 1999 and 2000. But, despite being a part of Yankees lore, Cooperstown might not be on the horizon for Pettitte.

Voter Jay Greenberg of the New York Post says that he would vote no on Pettitte, but he reserves the right to change his mind. "Pettitte was a reliable pitcher, but never a staff ace," Greenberg says. "He was 55th all-time in wins, 43rd all-time in winning percentage, and that leaves him a little short, even with his outstanding postseason record. Remember, Pettitte almost always pitched Games 2 or 3, not Game 1 [of a postseason series]."

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN agrees. "It's the perception that he was always Roger Clemens' sidekick or one of several co-equals on staffs with guys like Mike Mussina, David Wells and David Cone," Crasnick says. "It's not all about numbers, and I never got the impression while watching Pettitte that he was significantly better than any of those other guys."

Voters have other knocks against Pettitte's career. He had a 1.36 WHIP, which ranks him 717th among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings. He was 77th in Wins Above Replacement, 720th in ERA and 123rd in innings pitched, while giving up 1.04 hits an inning.

He finished in the top five in ERA twice and never in the top five in strikeout ratio. Also, according to baseball-reference.com, Pettitte compares to such non-Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers as Wells, Kevin Brown and Dwight Gooden.

Steroids are also a part of Pettitte's legacy. He was named as a user of performance-enhancing drugs in the Mitchell Report, and in 2002 Pettitte admitted in a spring-training press conference that he had used human-growth hormone to help him recover from injury. Whether Pettitte is telling the entire story is another item for debate.

Voters don't look favorably on players linked to steroids, even when they confess. Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame vote percentage dropped, from 23.7 to 19.8, when the latest balloting was announced last month, a year after the St. Louis Cardinals' hitting coach admitted that he had used steroids during his career.

"Pettitte's admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs -- no matter how briefly and regardless of the reason -- will also hurt his cause with hard-line voters," Crasnick says. "If the baseball writers don't cut Mark McGwire any slack for coming clean, I don't see why they would or should judge Pettitte any differently."

Greenberg says he believes that Pettitte's steroid use was limited, but "I haven't yet voted for any players implicated. There would be a double-standard if I gave him a pass."

For some voters, such as Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Pettitte's steroids issues are no big deal because he's not worthy of Cooperstown anyway.

"His admission helps, but I don't see how a pitcher with 240 wins gets into the Hall," Livingston says. "It took Bert Blyleven 14 years to get in, and he had 287 wins. He won a World Series championship [in Minnesota in 1987] and didn't have a lineup like Pettitte had with the Yankees. I'd say no for Pettitte."

Mel Antonen lives in Washington, D.C., and is a baseball analyst for Sirius-XM Radio. He covered baseball at USA Today for 25 years.

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