NEW YORK -- Andy Pettitte’s biggest regret over the course of his career makes his honor on Sunday all the more remarkable, and in some ways more significant. With his plaque in Monument Park and his No. 46 being retired, Pettitte is breaking the performance-enhancing drugs glass ceiling. Before Sunday, no baseball player who was directly or, in some cases, indirectly connected to the recent PED scandals has had his number retired.
By giving Pettitte the honor on Sunday, the Yankees are casting a sympathetic eye on PED use. If not for Pettitte’s directness and his honesty, such a day would not have been possible. When the baseball world found he had used human growth hormones, Pettitte showed character that only adversity can fully reveal.
Pettitte’s earnestness, decency and remorsefulness beat the "scarlet letter" that came with his inclusion in the Mitchell Report.
Of course, first and foremost, Pettitte is being feted Sunday because of his 256 regular-season wins (219 as a Yankee), his 19 postseason victories (18 as a Yankee) and his five World Series rings (all as a Yankee). But when it comes to receiving the franchise’s highest individual honor, all Pettitte did on the field was not going to be enough to enter Monument Park if he hadn't handled the Mitchell Report in a straightforward way.
While many athletes deny, deny and deny until they decay their legacies in situations such as this, Pettitte immediately admitted his mistake, then later at a news conference spent nearly an hour answering questions until there were no more. He apologized publicly and privately to fans, to executives and to reporters.
On Sunday, the Yankees are setting a precedent by accepting Pettitte into their most hallowed ground. They aren't all choirboys out there, anyway, with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin, but -- fairly or not -- PED use has been looked upon as the ultimate asterisk of this most recent baseball era. The asterisk -- perceived or real -- has so far kept several greats out of Cooperstown.
In the Bronx, the Yankees are letting Pettitte’s PED transgression fade into history.
“It is a recognition of how impactful he was on us,” general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN New York. “Listen, everyone makes mistakes. Everybody has debits on their ledger, so to speak. But he has got less than most people walking this planet. He is as much deserving of the recognition, both professionally and personally. We are very fortunate to have had a guy like that here.”
Pettitte will be remembered for coming through in big spots, staring over his glove, his intense eyes the only thing showing under the bill of a Yankees cap. His most indelible moment occurred in 1996 when he threw 8⅓ scoreless innings to beat John Smoltz and the Braves 1-0 at Fulton County Stadium and give the Yankees the lead for what would become the first World Series title in a string of four in five years.
Without Pettitte’s admission to HGH use -- which he has always maintained happened over a short period and only to recover from an injury -- he is a borderline Hall of Famer. In the modern era of extended playoffs, he pitched more innings than anyone in postseason history, but what made him great was his ability to maintain his same level in October as he did during the regular season. Pettitte was good for about 17 wins a regular season and had a career ERA of 3.85. But he also made 44 playoff starts and won 19 games with a 3.81 ERA.
And for executives of the Yankees, teammates, reporters and fans, there was also something more to Pettitte, a sincerity that made him likable.
“The first thing I think of Andy Pettitte is he is one of the best people I have ever met,” Cashman said. “He is just a tremendous human being. Other than Whitey Ford, he might be the best left-handed starter in Yankee history. That says it all.”
There is a niceness to Pettitte. Unlike some athletes, he doesn’t make anyone feel like he thinks he is better than them.
“It is just who he is and how he is,” Cashman said. “He is someone who really cares about winning, but he truly, honestly cares about his teammates. He cares about the franchise. He cares about the fan base. He is someone who invests honestly, having everything work out for everyone.
“So if he sees a teammate down and out, he is going to go above and beyond to pick them up. That is off the field, away from the park. He’s 24-7 invested in us. Someone was struggling with some stuff, he was going to do everything he can to counsel and help.
“Not everyone is wired that way. A lot of people punch the clock when they show up for work and they punch out when the last out is recorded. That’s it. If someone has some issues, that is their problem. Andy was not like that. He made us better because if somebody needed to be carried, he was going to be there to help carry somebody because he was not going to let anyone down or let anyone behind.”
When the Mitchell Report was released in December 2007, there were prominent columns written that wondered if Pettitte had lost his place in Monument Park. It turns out he did not. In making it to Sunday’s ceremony, Pettitte did it because of the sincerity that made him so great and so likable.