NEW YORK -- The debate this week that the Yankees and everybody else should treat Andy Pettitte no differently than Alex Rodriguez because both players were admitted performance-enhancing drug users is so absurd it makes my head hurt. Please, just stop it. There is no disconnect at work here. Saying Pettitte and Rodriguez are the same is a false equivalency.
Pettitte isn't just getting a Nice Guy discount because the Yankees announced a few days ago that they're retiring his number and giving him a plaque in Monument Park, two honors that A-Rod will never experience in New York.
A-Rod's habitual PED recidivism, lying and character assassination attempts against his accusers make Pettitte's PED use look like a fender bender. Pettitte's actions aren't totally excusable, but again, they hardly rise to the level of what A-Rod finally admitted to, or how he's continued to exacerbate his problems with clumsy grabs for the forgiveness Pettitte has enjoyed because of how he behaved before and after he was exposed. A-Rod's latest stunt, the handwritten apology letter he released Tuesday, instantly led to photos of mock letters being posted on Twitter with handwritten lines like, "Sorry! I got caught!"
Yankees management is giving Pettitte a pass for his PED use, which Pettitte has always insisted was a one-time mistake. He's said he did it only to rehab an injury so he could hurry back to help the team, and you can choose to accept that or not. But it seems the Yankees have continued to view him in the greater context of what he means to the franchise.
The Yankees did break a new ethical barrier of sorts by not disqualifying Pettitte outright from getting the same treatment as Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams -- two other members of the '90s dynasty whom he'll join in Monument Park this summer.
But let's be completely frank and grown-up here. Rather than pretend we haven't gotten a peek behind the curtain regarding what was really going on with the Yankees all those years, face it: The decision to not disqualify Pettitte because of his PED use isn't really an enormous shift for the team.
The Yankees profited greatly from employing a large cast of other PED users during the steroid era such as Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Chuck Knoblauch, and Mike Stanton. The Mitchell report and BALCO trials revealed that.
So why pretend otherwise now?
The Yankees' ethical squishiness on PED use is nothing new. Nor was it unique in baseball during the steroid era. Or since.
Remember, suspicions about steroids started a full decade earlier than A-Rod's and Giambi's arrival here -- all the way back to when a suddenly puffed-up Orioles outfielder named Brady Anderson clouted 50 home runs in 1996. The wonderment was ratcheted up more when Mark McGwire beat back questions about his use of a steroid precursor nicknamed "Andro" as he and Sammy Sosa (another PED cheat) chased Roger Maris' home run record in 1998. The issue heated up again in June 2002, when the late Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he estimated half of all major league players were using performance-enhancing drugs. Critics attacked Caminiti, said he was crazy.
The Yanks signed Giambi -- McGwire's and Jose Canseco's former training pal with the Oakland A's -- to a $120 million contract seven months before Caminiti's tell-all. The Yankees are one of baseball's most meticulous organizations. Yet when asked directly at Giambi's mea culpa news conference if possible steroid use by Giambi was ever part of discussions about whether to sign him to such an enormous deal, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said no, no, the issue "wasn't in the winds" back then.
Which just isn't true.
A-Rod, who played with Caminiti in Texas in 2001, one of several Rangers teams that might've had one of the greatest collections of juicers of all time (Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, et al.), was already with the Yanks for one season when Caminiti's SI story came out. But that didn't stop the Yanks from buying the storyline that A-Rod was the exception, The Last Natural, when they first traded for him, or when they re-signed him to the $275 million deal they're now stuck with.
So the Yanks have a long history of looking the other way. How intentional it was -- what did they know, and when did they know it? -- is up for debate.
But remember this, too, about that Nice Guy premium Pettitte is getting vs. A-Rod: Contrary to the bitterness Knoblauch expressed on Twitter on Monday about Pettitte's kid-glove treatment by the Yanks, the Yankees actually have treated Pettitte poorly in the past. It hasn't been all rainbows and syrupy sentimentalism.
In 2003, the team let Pettitte walk off to Houston years before his PED use ever surfaced. Pettitte had just won 21 games and already had a clutch reputation. Yet the Yankees asked him to take a pay cut -- a pay cut! -- from $11.5 million to $10 million a year. George Steinbrenner was still around and vital then, and The Boss personally negotiated deals with career-long bad boys like David Wells and Sheffield. Yet Pettitte didn't hear from the Yanks for six weeks after their initial offer. Even their final offer asked him to accept $5.1 million less in guaranteed money to stay with them rather than go home to play for Houston -- a risk he wasn't willing to take.
In short, the Yanks gave Pettitte the same unsentimental treatment that Giambi and A-Rod got when the team explored voiding the millions left on their ill-gotten contracts, and that Joe Torre got with the one-year contract extension offer that left him so "insulted" he left to manage the Dodgers. Even Jeter was publicly told to "smoke the reality pipe" by an unnamed Yankees official during his last contract talks.
The Yankees' front office can be as mean as a school of sharks.
And any "forgiveness" between Pettitte and the Yanks has flowed both ways. They were both open to a reunion after his stay in Houston. The nasty blips? Both sides seem to have written it off as the cost of doing business, and all's fair in the fog of salary wars and the steroid era.
All of it is also influenced by the fact that Pettitte and A-Rod are dramatically different men and they handled being caught as PED users in significantly different ways. Pettitte held a news conference to make a blanket apology, and sat there till every last question was asked. Then he made the rounds for weeks behind the scenes, personally repeating his apology to one person after another after another. His behavior was impeccable before and since, even when Clemens called him a liar. He didn't cook up some phony lawsuit against the Yanks' team doctor, as A-Rod did, or lie again and again on national TV, smear the reporter who unearthed his PED use, sell out a cousin who is now suing him, or backslide into PED use, as far as anyone knows.
People sometimes do make grievous mistakes in life. Pettitte's story, until proved otherwise, is he cheated, then asked for forgiveness, and earned it with his actions. Meanwhile, A-Rod keeps setting himself up to be seen as an incorrigible fraud.
And now, all of that has determined how each man is treated?