Once again, we've been told that modern Yankee hero, Andy Pettitte, might be leaning towards retirement, rather than taking his formidable, veteran guile to the hill in 2011.
In what has become an offseason tradition in the Bronx, the left-handed hurler is said to be agonizing over the decision whether to continue playing the game he loves, or to hang it up in favor of spending valuable time with his cherished family. As a longtime veteran of the game, Pettitte, like all ballplayers, has made a considerable family sacrifice in order to dedicate himself to a career in baseball.
As Yankee fans, out of our own selfish interests, we're desperate to see the determined eyes of Andy Pettitte peering over his glove, fixed upon his catcher's target, ready to go to work setting down opposing hitter after hitter.
However, knowing that he is a devoted husband and father, who has often spoken longingly of spending more time with his wife and children, we have grown accustomed to the notion that he might walk away from the game at any time. As much as we'd love the opportunity to continue watching Andy Pettitte pitch, one certainly cannot fault a man for feeling drawn to home, to spend the time with his family that he has often sacrificed in favor of a long baseball career.
This is certainly something we've heard several times before. Since returning to the Yankees from his three year stint with the Houston Astros before the 2007 season, Pettitte has been pitching on 1-year contracts, never sure of his desire to commit to the baseball life beyond each season.
The Yankees, suddenly desperate for starting pitching after missing out on Cliff Lee in free agency, are hoping that they can entice Andy to sign one more contract to keep his valuable left arm in the Bronx for at least 2011.
With CC Sabathia the only near sure thing, followed by the highly talented, yet inexperienced Phil Hughes, and the mercurial A.J. Burnett, the Yankee rotation is looking strangely depleted. Sabathia was the reliable horse he always is atop the staff, while Hughes was stellar in the first half, before tiring significantly down the stretch, and Burnett was a disaster for half of his starts.
New York does possess a few promising youngsters throughout their system, but none that are guaranteed ready to step into the pressure-packed environs of Yankee Stadium and the power-laden Al East.
Currently, the Yankees have Ivan Nova, a young hurler that impressed in short stints with the Yankees last year, and Sergio Mitre lined up for the last two slots in the Major League rotation. Nova could very well have a future in the Bronx, but no one truly believes the Yankees are prepared to enter the 2011 season with two spots filled with such uncertainty. After all, they also have no idea what they might get out of Burnett this season, after his erratic swings between utter dominance and absolutely abysmal performances in 2010.
This is precisely where Andy Pettitte fits into the Yankee plans. Although he is well on his way to 39 years old, the veteran left-hander has pitched 13 seasons for the Yankees, winning 203 games along the way. His intense presence and obvious comfort pitching in New York would immediately stabilize a Yankee rotation that currently finds itself in a state of near-panic.
Though he did miss two full months from mid-July to mid-September with a groin injury, 2010 was one of Andy's finer seasons as a Yankee. Before his injury, Pettitte was 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA, amongst his best starts to a year in his entire career. Once he was injured, the Yankees suddenly realized what his presence meant to the rotation. For those two months, they experimented with various starters, attempting to find the right combination of Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre and Dustin Mosely to fill the void left by Pettitte. They met with only varying degrees of success in that endeavor.
Thankfully he returned just in time for the post-season, lending his illustrious playoff credentials to the Yankee cause for their quest to defend their 2009 World Series title. Just as he always has done, Major League Baseball's career post-season victories leader pitched impeccably again, making two fantastic starts in the AL Division Series and AL Championship Series. Though he won only one of his two starts, he pitched very well in both, and was the Yankees' best starter in their ultimately fruitless October campaign.
At that moment, we likely took it for granted that we could potentially be watching Andy Pettitte pitch for the last time. As we witnessed one of our favorite sons walk off the Yankee Stadium mound following the seventh inning of ALCS Game 3 against Texas, most Yankee fans expected that we'd get the opportunity to see him again in that series, if not again in the World Series. Unfortunately however, the Yankees were defeated handily in the ALCS by a potent Rangers' squad, and the chance for Pettitte to avenge his loss never materialized.
As the Yankees' 2010 season came to a disappointing close, the realization that Andy Pettitte might be finished for good this time began to creep into the hearts of Yankee fans and management. Bolstered for a while by the assumption that Cliff Lee coming to the Bronx was a foregone conclusion, Yankee faithful weren't as concerned about the potential implications that Pettitte leaving might have for the team's 2011 aspirations. However, now that Lee has somewhat surprisingly returned to Philadelphia to help form a super-rotation alongside Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, many are beginning to realize the immense value of keeping Andy Pettitte in pinstripes.
Media reports have stated that a decision by Pettitte is looming, expected to be revealed any day now. As he has recently returned from a family vacation in Hawaii, one can reasonably presume that he and his loved ones have discussed the topic and might be ready to reveal the ultimate decision in the very near future.
There won't be any ridiculously hyped media spectacles to draw attention to himself and his decision; he'll likely hold a small press conference, announce his intentions, and simply return home to Texas.
Simple and effective, just like Andy Pettitte's entire career.
As a longtime fan of Andy Pettitte, I am admittedly biased. I want him to continue pitching, and winning games in the Bronx, cementing his status among Yankee greats. His entire career has been one filled with great pitching performances, five World Series titles as a Yankee and enough memorable moments for five baseball careers.
If last October was the last opportunity to watch this great Yankee pitch, then we must accept that reality and move on. It might finally be time for Andy Pettitte to leave this all behind and do what he has been threatening to do for years, simply stay home with the family.