Bomber Bites: It Shouldn’t Be Andy Pettitte’s Time Just Yet


Yesterday, news broke that the New York Yankees have decided to retire Andy Pettitte‘s number 46 this coming season. Congratulations to Andy and his family, because the honor is well-deserved…eventually. It’s not his time yet. Plain and simple. Is he one of the all-time great Yankees? Of course he is. I’m not arguing that point. Is he the winningest hurler in postseason history? Yes he is. When the chips were down during the Joe Torre/Core Four era of Yankees’ baseball, there were few men you’d rather have taking the bump than Andy Pettitte. But to retire his number in 2015? Sorry, that dog won’t hunt, at least not with this author.

In 1995, at the tender age of 23, GM Gene Michael and manager Buck Showalter liked the tenacity and grit that the Deer Park, Texas lefty had shown. It was decided that the Pettitte would be inserted into the rotation, as a solid group of young, homegrown Yankees were on the verge of joining the big club. During that rookie season, Pettitte finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, posting a 12-9 record with an ERA of 4.17. Impressive for a rookie, but not nearly as excellent as his sophomore season, one in which he led the Yankees with a 21-8 record and an ERA of 3.87. He was the American League Cy Young Award runner-up, and his career was off and running.

By now, you know the numbers: 19 career postseason wins, most all-time. Five World Series rings, the 2001 ALCS MVP, a 60.8 WAR, which is good for 170th all-time, 256 career wins, seven AL pennants, one NL pennat. Ahh, the one NL pennant. After the Yankees got wiped out by the underdog Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series, Pettitte rather than returning to the Yankees, took his talents to Texas and returned home to pitch for the Houston Astros. In my mind, the fact that he never gave the Yankees or GM Brian Cashman much of a chance to re-sign him, takes some of the shine off his Yankees’ legacy.

Other players also had chances to leave New York when they became free agents, yet they remained. Remember when Bernie Williams was on the verge of joining the Boston Red Sox and at the last minute, the Yankees came through and brought him back? Career Yankee, Bernie Williams. Rather than trying to extend his career, he quietly rode off into the sunset, as one of the greatest Bronx Bombers of all-time. Sixteen years a Yankee, the quiet, unassuming Bernie. The forgotten member of the core that helped bring multiple titles to the Bronx. Bernie is a fan favorite, and was with New York prior to the glory days, the last few years of the Don Mattingly-era Yankees, the 90+ loss Yankees. He was a building block that helped the Core Four build the dynasty.

What about the Warrior, Paul O’Neill? He spent almost a decade in pinstripes, and carried the mantle of toughness in the Bronx once Mattingly retired. Sure, he wasn’t a homegrown Yankee, but the man is a New York Yankee through and through. He retired with five World Series rings, one in his home town of Cincinnati with the Reds in 1990, the rest in the Bronx with the Bombers. He continues to participate in Old Timers Day, and works for the YES Network. The Yankees once made the mistake of issuing his beloved number 21 to LaTroy Hawkins, but he received so much grief from fans for taking O’Neill’s number, he quickly switched. Let me ask you this. Name the greatest right fielders in Yankees history. We can run down the list together: Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, and Paul O’Neill. Not bad company to be in, and only Winfield doesn’t have his number retired by the team, and that’s of his own doing. 

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Let’s go back to Bernie for a second. Now, name the greatest center fielders in Yankees’ history. Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Bernie Williams. Are you starting to see a pattern here? I’m not saying that Pettitte isn’t one of the all-time great Yankees’ hurlers, because he is. You can put him easily in the same class as Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry, both fellow lefties. But why does HE get his just due now before all-time greats from the dynasty era like Williams and O’Neill?

I mean, Andy Pettitte, besides voluntarily leaving the Yankees to join another team (strike one), he also admitted to using PEDs to help recover quicker from an arm injury (strike two). Not only did he abandon the Yankees once when he left via free agency, but he did a second time when he up and retired for a year following the 2010 season, only to return in 2012. In that final postseason start against the eventual AL champion Texas Rangers, Pettitte tossed seven innings of two-run ball. Good enough to win, but he didn’t, then he retired. That was it. So he’s been retired since 2013. This will be the the second full season he’s been gone. Williams has been retired since 2006. O’Neill since the end of 2001.

What about Jorge Posada? Seventeen seasons as one of the greatest catchers in team history. Posada fell right along the lineage of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson. Why isn’t his number retired yet? He’s been gone since 2011, and while never gifted defensively, and often overlooked with the bat because he played in the same era as Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza, his WAR is 48.4, which is good enough for 179th all-time, and he brought home five Silver Slugger awards. He too, was a member of the Core Four, and was the recipient of five World Series rings.

I’m not saying Andy Pettitte doesn’t deserve to have his number 46 retired. What I’m saying is, 2015 should not be his time. There are plenty of well-deserving Yankees who have earned that honor as well, and deserve their day in the sun before Andy Pettitte.

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