Pettitte: “I just didn’t have the hunger”

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I’ve been watching Andy Pettitte’s press conference.  It just ended a minute ago.  Some random things that struck me:

  • All of the conflicting reports we’ve heard over the past several months make a lot of sense given how much Pettitte says he wrestled over this.  He said that just two weeks ago he was ready to come back. And then he wasn’t.  He’s been all over the map, really.  At the risk of reading too much into this, it seems like his subconscious knew that he wasn’t going to play again, because he admitted he lacked the drive to rehab his groin and do the other kinds of offseason work he normally does.  He didn’t come to a conscious decision about it, however, until just recently.
  • Pettitte does not seem like a waffler. People will read too much into a random “you can never say never” comment he made, but he was emphatic about not pitching in 2011 certainly, and said that he’s done pitching.
  • He’s pretty clear-eyed about his career. He said he doesn’t consider himself a Hall of Famer. When asked about how he was able to pitch so well in the post season he said that if you look at the numbers he wasn’t really any different in the playoffs than he was during the regular season.  If anything that sells himself a bit short given the tougher competition in the postseason, but it does kind of harm the case of those who would claim that he was some sort of October clutch god.
  • He said the Roger Clemens trial had zero impact on his decision. This squares with what I’ve been hearing from a source I know close to Pettitte. And if you think about it, there’s even an argument that playing would have made the Clemens stuff less of a distraction. At least then he’d have something to do with himself rather than obsess about it. He could hide behind team spokesmen more easily.
  • He said that he spoke with a lot of people about whether he should go on. One of the people he spoke to was Tino Martinez, who told Pettitte that if he had any doubts, he shouldn’t play. Why? Martinez felt like he hung on for one season too long and seems to have regretted it.
  • He also said that Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies didn’t ultimately impact his decision, though there was an interesting note: he said that his offseason workouts began when Lee signed because he “felt an obligation” to the Yankees now that they were down a pitcher they had been assuming they’d get.  Ultimately, though, his lack of a desire to come back trumped this.

That last thing is probably the most interesting thing in all of this to me. I find his sense of team on that point to be fascinating and highly admirable. Indeed, in this whole press conference he has come off as just a swell dude, and I mean that sincerely.

Who knows what the future holds for Pettitte?  I don’t see him as a broadcaster. I could totally see him as a folksy pitching coach or something.  I don’t think he’s going to play baseball anymore, however. And that’s a good thing given that Andy Pettitte — more than most guys in his shoes — seems to have truly engaged the question of his desire and his ego and his drive to go on.

Good luck, Andy.

No, New York players do not get an unfair bump in Hall of Fame voting

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Angels owner Arte Moreno said something interesting yesterday. He was talking about the retired former Angel, Garret Anderson, and said “If he would have played in New York, he’d be in the Hall of Fame.”

The initial — and, I would add, the most on-point — response to this is to note that, for however good a player Anderson was at times, no definition of the term “Hall of Famer” really encompasses his legacy. He was OK. Pretty good on occasion. Nowhere near a Hall of Famer, and I don’t think you need me to go over the math to establish that. The only way Anderson would ever sniff the Hall of Fame one day is if we sent Tony La Russa back in time to manage him for several years and then brought him back from the past to strong-arme the Veterans Committee.

The more interesting question to me is the matter implied in Moreno’s comment: that players in New York get an unfair boost when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

I get why he might say that and I get why people might believe it. New York gets all the press. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere and, my God, people in New York will not let you forget it for a second. East Coast Bias™ and all of that.

Except it’s baloney, at least as far as the Hall of Fame goes.

I think it’s fair to say that, yes, if you play in New York, your reputation gets elevated more than if you played elsewhere, but I think there are limits to that what that elevation gets you. You’re more famous if you knock in 100 as the third-best guy on a Yankees team or if you are involved in a notable game or series or controversy as a Met, but it doesn’t mean you get some extra helping hand from the BBWAA five years after you retire.

At least one guy I know, Adam Darowski, has taken a rough look at this on the numbers. He has determined that, by at least his measure, Yankees players are the fourth most underrepresented contingent in Hall of Fame voting. Red Sox are fifth. Mets are in the middle of the pack. It may be more useful to think of this without reference to any numbers, though, and look at it in terms of who is and who isn’t getting some sort of unfair bump.

If there was a New York Premium to Hall of Fame consideration, wouldn’t Bernie Williams, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Elston Howard, Don Mattingly, Roger Maris, Jorge Posada, David Cone, John Franco, Keith Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and a bunch of other guys of that caliber get more support than they’ve historically gotten? I’m not saying all of those guys deserve to be in the Hall, but they all have better cases than Garret Anderson and none of them got in or appear to be getting in any time soon. They are close enough on the merits that, one would think anyway, an aura of New Yorkness surrounding them would have carried them over the line, but it never did.

Meanwhile, almost all of the most borderline Hall of Famers are old, old, old timers who were either poorly assessed by the Veterans Committee or who had the good fortune of being good friends with Frankie Frisch. Again, not a ton of Yankees make that cut. A whole lot of Giants do, but I suppose that’s another conversation. The questionable Hall of Famers of more recent vintage represent guys from all over the big league map. The only Yankee I can think of in relatively recent years who raised eyebrows was Catfish Hunter, and I suspect more of that was based on his legacy with the A’s than with the Yankees, where he really only had one great season.

Here’s what I think happens, practically, with New York players: If you play in New York, merely good and notable performance makes you huge in the moment and in casual remembrance, but your historical legacy is often written down a bit as a function of overall team success. Also — or, maybe, alternatively — it’s a matter of every good Yankees era being defined by such a big meagstar — Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Reggie, Jeter — that the really good, even Hall of Fame-worthy guys who played with them are overlooked to some degree. Which, when you think about it, kinda sucks even worse for them because their megastar teammate is, thanks to the rings, in some ways getting elevated by team success while the lesser stars are denigrated because of it.

Which is not to say that we should cry for New York players. Paul O’Neill will never have to pay for a steak dinner in Manhattan for the rest of his life and, thanks to all of his friends in the press, Andy Pettitte’s obituary won’t mention his PED use at all while Barry Bonds’ obit will mention it in the first graf. It’s getting to the point where if you can simply avoid infamy and not suck for a five-year stretch you can get your number retired and a place in Monument Park.

But New York players aren’t getting unfair consideration in Hall of Fame voting. Indeed, I think they’re probably getting graded a bit too harshly.