Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Andy Pettitte Stays Silent: Is it time to worry?

Andy Pettitte has been saying he's going to retire for longer than he hasn't.

It's become an annual event by now. The season ends, the leaves change color, and No. 46 says he's going home. He's like the frustrated buddy in your fantasy football league who professes that each season will be his last. In the end, he always comes back. Just like Pettitte.

His waffling started as far back as his pre-Astros sabbatical in the early 2000s. He was often asked his opinion on the longevity of then-teammate and friend Roger Clemens, and his reaction was always the same. Pettitte would profess his respect and admiration for Clemens, then tag his commentary by insisting that would never be him.

A decade later, Pettitte is 38 and not much younger than Clemens was when he was burying people with splitters in the World Series. A lot has transpired since then: Pettitte won 21 games for New York in 2003, ditched eternal non-believer Steinbrenner to play for the Astros for three years, returned to New York, copped to HGH use, and began a playing under a succession of one-off contracts with the Yankees.

So when Pettitte hinted that he was strongly considering retirement following the Yankees' ALCS loss to the Rangers in October, fans who followed the pitcher before his hair went salt-and-pepper didn't pay it much attention. Sure, the easy life in Deer Park sounds pristine, but the competitor in Pettitte has always won out. There will always be time to sit on the porch of his ranch in Texas—the chance to handcuff David Ortiz on a 2-2 cutter doesn't last forever.

And yet, a look at Pettitte's offseason timeline suggests that this year may be different. In 2007, Pettitte re-upped on Dec. 12. In 2008, Pettitte and New York negotiated through December before reaching a deal in January. In 2009, he signed on Dec. 9. We're now knocking on the door of Christmas Day and we haven't heard a peep. Hmmmm...

Even the most optimistic Yankees fan—and trust me, I'm up there—would be unable to rationalize what Pettitte retiring would mean for the Yankees. Especially this year, when Joe Girardi's present opening day rotation can best be described as CC, Hughes, and a Whole Lot of Bad News.

Even at his advanced age, Pettitte is the glue of the Yankees' pitching staff, the guy you most want on the mound when the team desperately needs a pick-up. God put Andy Pettitte on this Earth to stop three-game losing streaks.

Ironically, it may be the competitor in Pettitte that has brought him to the crossroads. He was legitimately spooked by the groin tear that wrecked his season last summer, an injury he was unable to shake even after he returned to the mound. Maybe Pettitte doesn't want to be baseball's answer to Brett Favre—the star who returns against his better judgment and lives to regret it.

When Mickey Mantle was asked why he hadn't lived a healthier lifestyle, he explained that males in his family died young, so what was the use? Never mind the fact that before the Mantle name was synonymous with 500-foot home runs it was known for inhaling deadly fumes in coal mines. This was Mantle's way of dealing with his insecurity.

I've always wondered if Pettitte's insistence that he'd retire young was nothing more than a mental security blanket. Nobody thought Pettitte's troublesome left elbow had 1,500 innings in it, let alone 3,000. Like Mantle, he dealt with an uncomfortable reality by creating his own narrative.

Which takes us back to the battle in Pettitte's mind, which likely rages every morning after he drops his son off at school. The elbow that had Pettitte terrified his entire career has never quit on him. Who is he to quit on the elbow?

If you're a fan, you have to hope the competitor in Pettitte decides he still has something to prove. Because without him, the panic button gets pushed before the Yankees ever report to spring training.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

1 comment:

Brian said...

2 words. Steve Nebraska.