Friday, December 31, 2010

Pettitte posturing? Looking at the wait from a different angle

The Pearl River Hotel is the type of dusty old Irish pub where you don't wonder when the daytime regulars got to the bar, you wonder if they've ever actually left. Outsiders are met with steely glances of suspicion while the jukebox's only practical use is as a coat hanger.

It's not a place you go to meet your future wife or win a fist-pumping competition. Rather, The Hotel (as it's colloquially known) exists for the same reason all the best pubs do--to celebrate the art of conversation.

Naturally, this is where I wound up with friends on Wednesday afternoon, just four obsessive Yankee fans throwing back Guinness and trying to make sense of Andy Pettitte's end game.

Mark Teixeira was in the headlines, appearing in the type of story that exists only in the late-December vortex where the term "newsworthy" is at its loosest.

Teixeira, we were told, had been in contact with Pettitte via text message, the first baseman reiterating the widely reported belief that his teammate was leaning toward retirement.

"I think, like everyone else [thinks], if he's leaning one way, he's probably leaning towards retiring," he said.

Aware that Teixeira—with the notable exception of his right hamstring—is made up entirely of metal, wiring, and other composite parts, I viewed his ability to read Pettitte's tone through electronic communication as gospel.

It was another troubling sign for a Yankee team desperately in need of its security blanket.

My buddy Howie, a Penn alum still in denial that his beloved Quakers were defeated last month by the Manhattan Jaspers and their one-armed center, theorized that Teixeira and others were simply doing their buddy a solid, driving up the veteran's asking price via the bluff.

It's a hopeful theory for a Yankee fan, explaining away Pettitte's waffling as nothing more than contract posturing. But with a stunning amount of money accumulated over a 15-year career—not to mention those Dove: Journey To Comfort residuals still rolling in—can you imagine Pettitte consciously ratcheting up the drama over a couple million dollars?

That said, from a pure business standpoint it's difficult to understate how far Pettitte's stock has risen since the moment Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies. In one night, Pettitte went from a player the Yankees wanted to come back to a player the Yankees needed to come back.

Pettitte is sitting in his rocking chair in Deer Park holding a straight flush.

To their credit, the Yankees have taken the right path as Pettitte silently deliberates. Management has set no deadlines, issued no "take it or leave it" ultimatums. Hank Steinbrenner has been locked away in the club's panic room with all the smokes and bourbon he can handle.

"I think he knows we need him. I think he knows how much we respect him. What a great leader he is. I think all his teammates have echoed it," Yankees president Randy Levine told "But he's a great Yankee. He's a very, very mature person and he's got a great family and we've got to give him a chance to make his own decision."

There's no need to put a deadline on Pettitte, because the Yankees don't really have a backup plan anyway. They're either screwed...or not screwed. Not the most comfortable situation to be in I'm sure, but such is life in this the strangest of offseasons of the once-unconquerable Evil Empire.

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.

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