Is Andy Pettitte Hall Worthy?
The Hall of Fame debate usually follows the retirement of a productive high profile player, particularly one who made his name with the New York Yankees. Such is the case with Andy Pettitte, a solid if unspectacular lefty who was an integral part of multiple World Series Championship clubs.
Pettitte’s legacy and Cooperstown candidacy are bolstered immensely by his work in October and, on occasion, November. He retires with the most wins in postseason history. The fact that Pettitte appeared in the playoffs in all but three of his 16 seasons in the majors no doubt enhanced his ability to accumulate those 19 postseason victories, but that’s not the “enhancement” that will be under scrutiny.
Make no mistake, Pettitte will have to buck a recent and growing trend of this generation’s stars who put up hall worthy numbers, yet will fail to gain admission to Cooperstown because of direct ties to or even the suspicion of performance enhancing drug use.
We don’t have to debate the moral platitudes in Pettitte’s case. He admitted his use, and to his credit continued on with his life and career. Contrition may have earned points with some fans, but it’s unlikely to lessen the impact that his outright admission will have on hall voters. The next chapter appears to be Pettitte’s participation in what is sure to be the very public legal drama involving his friend Roger Clemens. We’ll table that discussion for now.
To be frank, I don’t believe Pettitte’s regular season numbers warrant his entry. I’m further more not convinced that his postseason numbers are enough to make up the difference in Hall of Fame credentials, or to erase the damage done by his admission of PED use. Coming clean to some extent, while it does not erase the transgressions against the game, afforded Pettitte an opportunity to reconcile with fans. Baseball writers will not be so forgiving when they fill out their ballots in five years.
I’d like to take this argument outside of that dreaded acronym (PED) for a bit, to look solely at Pettitte’s body of work. In other words, let’s look at the numbers and the accolades that made him a very successful pitcher for 16 seasons in the major leagues.
Pettitte is the first member of the vaunted Yankees “Core Four” – with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada – to retire. Those four players were the only men who were members of New York’s five World Series Championship Teams since 1996.
Today, pitchers who pile up postseason victories in bunches have a distinct advantage over those who pitched solely in the World Series (pre-1969). The expanded playoff format, which will likely swell again within the next two years, means that a pitcher could make between six and eight starts between LDS, LCS, and Word Series play.
Despite career numbers that are very solid by most standards, Pettitte is still not the greatest left-hander in Yankees history. Whitey Ford holds that distinction. Ron Guidry and Lefty Gomez would have to be thrown in the mix as well.
Pettitte sits high on the Yankee wins list, trailing only Ford and Red Ruffing for most victories in franchise history. In fact, Pettitte is one of just three pitchers in franchise history to reach 200 career wins. If you look up and down the Yankees pitching leaders, you’ll find that Pettitte’s name appears behind Ford numerous times.
It’s not merely the statistical comparison of the two that led me to bring Ford into the Pettitte discussion. There are some that regard the Yankee’s original lefty legend as a borderline Hall of Famer.
Perhaps it was Ford’s failure to reach the 300-win plateau, or the fact that he only had only one Cy Young Award. In fairness, Ford lost two seasons to military service and made just 16 starts combined in the final two years of his career. Ford’s career 55.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is better than Sandy Koufax (54.5), so it’s possible to make the stats – newfangled or not – say what you want them to. The Hall debate always brings out the best in statistical maneuvering.
Putting both stats and Yankee legends aside to look at awards and accomplishments, it’s pretty clear that at no time during his career was Pettitte ever considered the best pitcher in baseball. He received Cy Young votes in five different seasons. His highest finish came in just his second in the Bronx (1996), but he also finished fourth (2000), fifth on two occasions (1997, 2005), and sixth (2003) as well. It surprised me to see that he was selected to just three All-Star teams.
I’m not one who enjoys playing this game, but the number of “if-then” scenarios that would spring up in newspaper articles and in the internet community would dwarf those brought about any time that the name Bert Blyleven is mentioned.
The candidacy of Jack Morris, whose ERA of 3.90 is just .02 runs higher than Pettitte’s career mark would gain a new lease on life. In my mind, the discussion would have to expand well beyond just the Morris case, and include guys like Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Dennis Martinez. None of whom are immediately seen as Hall worthy candidates in and of themselves, and I’m not saying I support the “if-then” philosophy of awarding spots in Cooperstown for reasons other than individual merit.
One would have to look at contributions to the game, right? If so, John was on the cutting edge of a career-saving medical procedure that now carries his name. He came back better than he was before the surgery and won 288 games over 26 seasons. Kaat was a 283 game winner who claimed 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, transitioned into broadcasting and has been a distinguished member of the baseball community for five decades now. Martinez is the top winner (245) in baseball history among all Latin American pitchers.
Are those things not indicative of some high level of contribution? None of those men I just mentioned have their names attached to PED’s, which will almost certainly be enough to keep Pettitte out.
The Hall of Fame discussion often times degenerates into a Hall of Numbers debate, but the statistics aren’t everything and “fame” is a relative term. Would anyone ever say that Pete Rose is the worst player with 4,000 career hits? While it is an absolutely ridiculous argument, it is true. That Ty Cobb guy accomplished a few more things than Rose. Still, this entire line of discussion isn’t really worth pursuing any further.
What should we take away from the Pettitte Hall of Fame discussion?
Based on recent voting patterns and my gut instinct, while he was an outstanding pitcher who contributed to the success of the modern day Yankee dynasty, Pettitte will likely never receive his bronze plaque in Cooperstown. He was on multiple World Series winners and got paid quite handsomely. That may have to be all the reward baseball has to give in this case.
Who knows, maybe we haven’t seen Andy Pettitte take the mound for the last time. After all, “retirement” is another relative term these days.