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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.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.