HGH mistake keeps Pettitte from Hall

Had there never been a Mitchell report, or if Jason Grimsley had never spilled the beans to a grand jury, or if Andy Pettitte himself had not been so truthful in his congressional affidavit, the question of whether or not Pettitte belongs in the Hall of Fame would have made for great conversation.

By many yardsticks, he is a shoo-in, and by others, he is close enough that a strong case could be made in either direction.

But one slip-up renders the conversation moot: Pettitte admitted to using HGH, he said, on just two occasions in 2004 to speed his recovery from an elbow injury.

As much as I like and admire Pettitte, who announced on Friday that he will retire after this season, I can't vote for him, and judging by recent results for other known steroid abusers like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Pettitte's former friend Roger Clemens, a lot of other voters feel the same way.

Contrary to what the new breed of steroid apologists -- the ones who believe any means to success is justified -- would have you believe, this is not a moral judgment.

It is a strict reading of the Hall's own criteria for induction, which says as follows: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team[s] on which the player played."

By most of those standards, Pettitte is very much worthy of consideration.

His career total of 255 wins is more than Whitey Ford's final haul. He also had more wins than Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, Lefty Gomez and of course, Sandy Koufax.

His career ERA of 3.86 would be the highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher, but when the current leader in the clubhouse, Red Ruffing (3.80), retired in 1947, the league average ERA was 3.71. This year, the AL average ERA is 4.01. Still, this would be a sticking point for a lot of voters.

And Pettitte's career WAR, if you're into that sort of thing, is 60.3, slightly below that of the average among Hall of Fame pitchers, but still equal to or better than that of Bunning, Ford, Koufax, Hunter and about 25 others who have a plaque on the wall.

Pettitte's winning percentage of .627 is well above the average among Hall of Famers, and he has never had a losing season, although with the way the Yankees have been playing lately, that could end over the course of the final nine games this season.

When you factor in Pettitte's astonishing postseason record, it becomes very difficult to argue against him as a Hall of Famer. His 19-11, 3.81 ERA, 276 2/3 innings pitched in the playoffs would be a great season by any standard, let alone against the best teams in baseball at the most important time of the year.

If only for that one damned slip-up!

That makes it not only hard, but impossible for me to argue in favor if him. Already, I have staked out my position on this matter. If a player uses performance-enhancing drugs, for whatever reason, my reading of Rule 5 of the Hall's induction criteria tells me that the player fails to meet three of the standards: the ones dealing with integrity, sportsmanship and character.

The way I see it, to use a banned substance, even if everyone from the commissioner of baseball to the 30 team owners to every GM in the game is looking the other way, demonstrates a lack of integrity.

To use a substance that artificially enhances performance and creates an unfair advantage through the alteration of body chemistry and makeup demonstrates a lack of sportsmanship.

And to consciously make a decision that would force others to compromise their own health in order to keep up with you shows a self-centeredness that coincides with a lack of character.

Now, I am not saying Pettitte is a man without integrity, or of flawed character, or in any way unsportsmanlike. Actually, I believe he is quite the contrary on all three counts.

But the rule is the rule, and unfortunately, Pettitte violated it with his one terrible mistake.

For me to deviate in his case would be hypocritical of me, and in violation of the rules by which I am bound to vote.

This is the true tragedy of PEDs. Not that the "sacred'' numbers of baseball have been cheapened, or that the legacies of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris have somehow been diminished.

It is, in fact, the exact opposite. The fact that players like Bonds and McGwire and Sosa needed steroids to match, and surpass, their achievements only reinforces how great those players really were.

(Before you start hitting me with, "Mays and Aaron were on greenies, Ruth never played against black players and Ford scuffed the ball with his wedding ring," understand that I can't account for anything that was voted on before my time, nor can I correct the sins of the past, only the here and now.)

The real tragedy is that players like Pettitte, who deserve a legitimate shot at being immortalized in Cooperstown, made decisions that cost them that shot, probably without even realizing it at the time.

Same goes for Bonds, who was a good enough player to make it without steroids but chose to use them for reasons of ego. And maybe even Clemens, although at the time of his natural decline, his numbers were roughly equivalent to those of Dwight Gooden, who blew his shot at Cooperstown right through his nose.

Pettitte was an exceptional pitcher and a great Yankee, one who will deservedly have a place in the team's museum and, probably, have his number retired along with Ruth, Ford, Mickey Mantle and so many others.

His exemplary playing record, especially in the postseason, will be remembered and discussed long after he has retired.

But the one discussion that should have included Pettitte is the one that will now probably never get past the living room or the bar stool.

It's too bad. I would have loved to hear it.