October's Own

Forget the Hall debate—let's praise a tough lefty for being a big-game beast
February 14, 2011

Andy Pettitte's retirement last Friday sparked a predictable debate, one that flares whenever a player of his caliber decides to call it quits: Does he deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? It's a fun argument but also an unfortunate one, for it detracts from what a retirement should be—a moment for appreciation rather than instant evaluation.

Pettitte deserves better. The lefthander pitched in the majors for 16 seasons (13 with the Yankees, three with the Astros) and was never worse than a touch below average. He was a rotation stalwart, making at least 30 starts 12 times from 1996 through 2009. At his best he was good enough to be considered for awards (he had four top five finishes in Cy Young balloting), but never quite good enough to win one.

Yes, he was fortunate to be drafted by the Yankees in 1990, after falling to the 22nd round. He was lucky to come up as part of a New York dynasty that allowed him to pitch in the postseason in all but three seasons. Pettitte retires as the alltime leader in postseason starts (42), innings (263) and wins (19), for which he can thank both his teammates and the inflated wild-card era schedule. But Pettitte also made 25 quality starts in the postseason and had a lower career ERA (3.83) than he did in the regular season (3.88). His start in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series—8 1/3 shutout innings in a 1--0 win over the Braves—is right there with anything Jack Morris or John Smoltz ever did. That's not just good fortune.

For the record, Pettitte's postseason résumé makes him Hall-worthy. But we have years to decide whether he pitched enough innings, prevented enough runs, or whether his 2007 admission of HGH use weakens his candidacy. This moment is for recognizing that one of the game's stars is walking away, and that the sport will be a bit diminished for his absence.

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE

There were three fights in the first four seconds of the game between the Bruins and the Stars in Boston last Thursday night, a 6--3 Bruins victory that yielded these numbers: four fights, 91 penalty minutes and one ejection.

PHOTOCHARLES KRUPA/AP (PETTITTE)PRIDE RETIRED The gritty Pettitte has started and won more postseason games than any other pitcher.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)