I feel a lot of sadness tonight, and a little joy. You may not know this, but I am a fan of the New York Yankees. I don’t make a big deal about it, so most people don’t even know that I’m a fan of the Bronx Bombers. It is a sad day for Yankee fans. One of our greatest pitchers has hung up his glove.
Brian Cashman announced today that Andy Pettitte will not be pitching for the Pinstripes in 2011. That made me feel sad. I spent 18 years passionately cheering for a team that never seemed to get it done. After our stirring win in 1978, we lost a heartbreaker to the evil Dodgers in 1981, then descended into absurdity. Billy Martin got fired and hired weekly and the Yankees became a joke.
It all turned around when George Steinbrenner was suspended for his shenanigans with Dave Winfield, and Gene Michaels took over the team. Instead of trading prospects for broken down outfielders, he started building the farm system. Bernie Williams. Derek Jeter. Mariano Rivera. Jorge Posada. And a young southpaw named Andy Pettitte.
Andy came up during the 1995 season, but 1996 was his breakout year. He won 21 games, finished second in the Cy Young voting and the Yankees beat the much-hated Atlanta Braves in six games to finish where they should have been all along – on top of the baseball world.
Andy was never flashy, just steady. He went to the mound every 5 days and battled. He was not gifted with a blazing fastball, but had pinpoint control and a warrior’s spirit. And when the going got tough, when the game was on the line, when the pressure was high, Andy just got better. No one has won as many games in the post season as #46 for the good guys.
And he is more than a great pitcher. He is a good man. You’ve never heard about him hitting on women in bars, getting arrested for a DUI, or trash talking opponents. He loves his family. He could have made about 15 million dollars this year, but he would rather watch his kids play high school games. He actually put the mantra “I want to spend more time with my family” into effect.
But he took steroids, didn’t he? Yes, he did – for a short time. When he was injured, having some arm problems (I think it might have been in the years he was with the Astros – not sure) he took some medicine he was told would help him heal and earn the money he was paid. He knew it was wrong and did it. And when it came time, he faced the music, admitted his wrong and took the heat. This was no Mark McGwire or Rocket Man response. He faced even his imperfection like a man.
What is best is that Andy Pettitte is my brother. No, we have different parents. We’ve neverr met. But he is my brother in Christ. Many athletes give a “God helped me hit a home run” testimony when everything goes their way. Andy is a solid, grounded Christian who quietly lives out his Christianity.
In 2009, my son was married on Long Island. My wife and third son and daughter got tickets to old Yankee stadium to watch the good guys take on the interlopers from Oakland. Andy was on the mound. He pitched 8 strong innings and handed the ball off to the best closer in baseball history. Mariano got the last 3 outs and the home team left happy after a 2-1 win. What a privilege to be able to watch Andy Pettitte practice his craft that Sunday afternoon in the final season of the House that Ruth Built.
I will never get to do that again. Not at New Yankee stadium. Not on TV. Not on MLB.com. (Unless he pulls a Brett Favre.) I won’t get to watch that wild-eyed stare, see him rock back and spin a breaking pitch on the outside corner. I won’t get to watch big hitters ground into two-hop double plays on pitches they thought they could park.
I’m going to miss Andy Pettitte.
But I’m glad he retired. Somehow, I feel it was the right thing to do. I’ve seen too many athletes and politicians talk about going home only to be drawn back to the bright lights by big checks. Andy talked about wanting to enjoy some time with his kids. He’s doing it. Good for you, Andy. You showed the world that there is something more valuable than money, more important than fame.
From a brother in Christ who has been a huge fan for a long time: Thanks for everything!
It has been a privilege to watch you work.