Reggie Jackson was handicapping Andy Pettitte's Hall of Fame chances the other night, and you should know the slugger does not go to bat for every Tom, Dick and Andy who knocks on Cooperstown's door.
Sure, Jackson is biased. He is inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to fellow New York Yankees, and to fellow card-carrying members of the Mr. October club, too.
But Jackson also believes there should be a second Hall of Fame for the real Hall of Famers. In other words, he believes there are too many ballplayers enshrined in Cooperstown, men who were too mortal on the playing field to be sculpted into bronze baseball gods.
So when Jackson says Pettitte is worthy, you listen. When he agrees that a conquest of Cliff Lee in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series could serve as a down-the-road tiebreaker, you can't wait to get to ringside for Monday night's heavyweight title bout, maybe the most anticipated fight in the Bronx since Joe Louis dropped Max Schmeling three times in the first round.
"I think if Andy beats Lee," Jackson said, "it would make any [Hall of Fame] voter that's on the borderline put him in. I think Andy has a strong résumé now for the Hall of Fame, and I think he'll already get strong consideration. But something like this would give him additional consideration."
Something like beating an indomitable postseason terminator before a full Yankee Stadium house.
In this corner, the Texas Rangers southpaw who is 6-0 in the postseason with a 1.44 ERA and who has struck out 54 batters while surrendering only six walks. In that corner, the Yankees southpaw who is the most prolific postseason winner of all time (19 victories) and who was tough enough and bold enough once to defeat John Smoltz 1-0 in a World Series death match.
Nobody needs to raise the stakes to make Monday night more fascinating. Other than transporting the Pettitte-Lee duel to Game 7 in Arlington, Texas, next weekend, it's not getting much better than this.
But far beyond the pressing need for his Yankees to take a 2-1 series lead, Pettitte could be pitching for a legacy not yet fully defined. If he has a credible shot at Cooperstown, Pettitte is not a lock. His admission of human growth hormone use and his connection to Roger Clemens complicates his case, and leaves Pettitte needing all the tiebreakers he can collect.
A 20th postseason victory would be a hell of a start, especially when Lee is favored to dominate the Yankees the way he dominated them on the Phillies' behalf in Game 1 of last year's World Series.
For Pettitte, could this really be a win-and-he's-in proposition?
"I think [beating Lee] would just make people more aware," Jackson said, "because the media will start to single out all the great confrontations and moments he's had. So I think if Andy beats him, he'll be over the hump. There are guys already in the Hall of Fame he has outperformed."
Over 16 regular seasons, Pettitte is 240-138, a .635 winning percentage. He has more victories than Yankee Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236), Catfish Hunter (224) and Lefty Gomez (189). Pettitte has a better winning percentage than non-Yankee Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (.591), Tom Seaver (.603) and Bob Feller (.621).
But only once has the durable Pettitte finished in the top three of the Cy Young Award voting. He has only two 20-win seasons and three All-Star Game selections to his name. Pettitte also has benefited from tremendous run support, as his career ERA of 3.88 would be the worst in the Hall of Fame (though he did spend most of his career in the rough and tumble American League East).
"I still think the postseason gets him in," said Jackson, one Mr. October looking out for another.
Of course, Whitey and the Old Schoolers didn't have the extra playoff rounds to pump up their stats. On the other hand, Whitey's .556 World Series winning percentage is no match for Pettitte's .679 in the postseason.
And what of Pettitte's HGH confession and his places in the Mitchell report and the Clemens depositions? Pettitte might be saved by his otherwise dignified approach and neighborly demeanor, even if many thought his own HGH story -- only two days of use, and only to heal up an elbow injury -- was hard to believe.
"It seems like they've looked the other way with him," Jackson said of the news media. "Some guys get it, and some guys don't."
Either way, Pettitte gets the ball Monday night with a shot to enhance his already historic postseason career. Win, lose or draw, Jackson said, "It's going to be hard to keep Andy Pettitte out of the Hall."
But a win over Cliff Lee would make it harder, as in a lot.