By Jack Caldwell ’18
Baseball season has been very entertaining this year for Yankees fans, with Aaron Judge continuing to hit home runs as the Bronx Bombers keep on winning. Along with this, a topic of conversation has been Andy Pettitte’s return to the organization as a special instructor. When talking about Pettitte’s return, C.C. Sabathia commented, “It’s a lot of fun to bounce stuff off a Hall of Famer.” Pettitte’s name will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot in December of 2018, but is he worthy of being inducted?
While it’s very easy to cancel Pettitte out of the discussion due to his admitted use of PEDs, that argument is growing outdated. With the recent inductions of steroid-linked players such as Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza, it seems that HOF voters are becoming more lenient on the controversial issue. Infamous steroid-users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have also seen their vote totals go up each year, making their eventual inductions almost inevitable. With the steroid argument out of the way, let’s take a look at Pettitte’s actual career.
Pettitte’s postseason numbers have been deemed untouchable by many. Although this has much to do with the success of the Yankee and Astro teams he pitched for, it’s undeniable that he was one of the best playoff performers of his generation. He leads baseball all-time in the playoffs in wins (19), innings pitched (276.2), and many memorable wins on his resume. Who could forget his shutout win against John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series? Or, at the age of 37, starting (and getting the win) on three days rest in the championship-clinching Game 6 of the 2009 World Series? Not only was Pettitte a clutch performer, but he was also durable.
At the age of 38, Pettitte continued to pitch at a high level and was voted into his third (and final) All-Star Game. After a year away from baseball in 2011, Pettitte returned to the Yankees and proved to have plenty left in the tank, posting ERAs of 2.87 and 3.74 with 16 total wins in his final two seasons as well as two solid starts in New York’s 2012 postseason run. The only thing holding Pettitte back at this point? He rarely matched his postseason greatness in the regular season.
To become a Hall of Famer, many argue that a player must be considered one of the best at his position for about a decade. Taking a look at his career from the age of 24 to 34, he finished in the top three voting for the Cy Young Award only once (1996, second). In that span, he pitched more than 200 innings eight times, garnered more than 20 wins once (2003) and had an ERA that averaged 3.8. Those numbers are very good, just not Hall of Fame worthy.
His postseason numbers are certainly admirable, but he never was as great in the regular season as he was in the playoffs. Pettitte also had many playoff opportunities because of the great teams he played for. Since the majority of Hall of Famers haven’t played nearly as many playoff games as Pettitte, regular season numbers have to be the primary focus when evaluating someone’s chance of being inducted.
Reflecting on Andy Pettitte’s career, he is certainly a legend to many Yankee fans. His postseason heroics, intimidating stare and humble attitude will be ingrained in the minds of every New Yorker who watched him pitch. However, it’s unfair to induct a player mostly based on their playoff numbers. A plaque in Monument Park? Obvious. Number retired? Probably justified. Hall of Famer? Not quite.