Legacy? Who cares about Andy Pettitte’s legacy?

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Whenever a once-great player holds on too long or comes back too often, there is talk about his legacy.  Or, shall I say, his legacy.

The italics are important. They denote the magical nature of this magical concept. A concept that is hard to describe. What makes a legacy? Do a man’s accomplishments make it so, or is it something else? Something more?

I’m inclined to say it’s the latter. That a player’s legacy is more a function of the narrative that surrounds his accomplishments than the accomplishments themselves. And that narrative is mostly a media creation.  A player leaving on a high note. A player holding on too long. Those things are a function of the stories we tell about them, not a function of their greatness itself.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just read Jon Morosi’s column about Andy Pettitte’s return and how it could negatively impact his legacy:

Posada didn’t hurt the Yankees last year. In fact, he batted .429 against the Tigers in the American League Division Series. But the story of his season, on and off the field, underscored the difficultly in shepherding a franchise icon into retirement without bruising his psyche.

Pettitte managed to get it right the first time, walking away after two quality starts in the 2010 postseason. Just before retiring, the ol’ lefty burnished his image as the most reliable October starter of his generation.

It’s a nice legacy – quite perfect the way it is. Now he’s taking it out of the display case. He must be careful not to drop it.

I understand the value of avoiding an ignominious end — who wants to look foolish? — but I question how much such ignominious ends truly matter to the players in question. And whether they should matter to us at all.

Posada had a couple of bad moments last year. Poor play. That tantrum about where he was in the batting order.  But that stuff vanished pretty quickly after the season ended and the retirement press conference happened. Sure, I remember it because all I do is think about baseball all day, but the vast majority of fans have already banished those thoughts from their memories and when they think about Jorge Posada, they’ll think about the good stuff, not the bad.

And you can bet your bippy that Posada will remember the good stuff too.  Almost all players do.  When I met Willie Mays last week, he was walking around in a Giants cap talking about his exploits from the 50s and 60s, not his last year with the Mets.  Same goes for anyone else. They think about the events and happenings, not some amorphous concept that is their legacy. And even if they do, you can bet that the same healthy egos that allowed them to become superstars create a legacy in their minds that is untarnished.

Back to Pettitte.  He might not pitch well this year. Heck, he could have a total meltdown. He could go 0-8 with a 12.56 ERA, accidentally injure Robinson Cano while covering a bunt and poop his pants on the mound on a muggy August night.  And man, that would suck pretty bad.

But will that erase all of the good stuff he’s done?  Will that make his amazing body of work go away? Will it keep Pettitte from sitting in a rocking chair one day and thinking about how great a pitcher he was?  Of course not. His legacy is already solidified, no matter what he does in 2012. Indeed, it can only really be enhanced if he does something amazing, because most people’s memories are pretty good at pushing out the negativity as the years go on.

Well, maybe not if he actually poops his pants. That may be something he can’t shake, I’ll grant you. But I think you know what I mean.

Austin Romine gets the start at catcher in ALCS Game 4

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Austin Romine is starting at catcher and batting ninth for the Yankees in today’s ALCS Game 4 versus the Astros.
Gary Sanchez is still in the lineup, but he’s the DH. That means Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley and Matt Holliday are all on the bench.

Sanchez was lambasted for not holding on to the relay throw in Game 2, allowing Jose Altuve to score the winning run despite getting beat to the plate by the ball by several feet. That, combined with earlier passed balls, led some in the press to lobby for Romine to get the call behind the plate. Those calls tended to ignore the fact that Romine can’t hit a lick and that he is inferior to Sanchez when it comes to gunning down runners. Maybe a ball doesn’t skip by Romine that would have eluded Sanchez, but if I’m Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman or one of the speedier Astros, I’m running wild on Romine any time I get on base today.

The offensive knock is not quite as big a deal at the moment as it normally would be. Sanchez is in an 0-for-16 slump, but Romine isn’t replacing his bat he’s replacing either Ellsbury, Headley or Holliday. None of those guys are hitting at all, so I don’t suppose this is that big of a deal. Discuss amongst yourselves if you’d rather have a guy who is as cold as ice in the lineup who might hit versus a guy you can be pretty sure isn’t gonna hit regardless.

Either way, it’s a different look for the Yankees in Game 4.