By Sweeny Murti
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He wasn’t flashy and he wasn’t overpowering. He was never the best, but he wasn’t far behind. If Andy Pettitte was anything, he was consistent.
Sometime in 1996, his second year in the majors, Pettitte strolled into Graziella’s, an Italian restaurant in White Plains, about 30 minutes north of Yankee Stadium. Mama Graz cooked him up some fine penne ala vodka with grilled chicken, and Pettitte made it part of his gameday routine…for the rest of his career.
An autographed picture of Pettitte hangs in the bar at Graziella’s. It was put into hiding for three years while he went into hiding himself in Houston. But the picture returned in 2007, just as Andy did, and so did the routine.
Before every home night game that Andy Pettitte pitched as a Yankee he would stop in for some of that penne ala vodka with grilled chicken (if he was pitching a day game, they set him up with some takeout the night before on his way home). The routine never changed, and neither did Pettitte. Consistent, beginning to end—the only pitcher in Major League history to post a .500 or better record while making at least 15 starts in each of his first 16 seasons.
Pettitte was actually over .500 every year but one, in 2008 when he battled shoulder fatigue and desperately tried to keep the Yankees from missing the playoffs for the first time since he was a minor leaguer. Instead of shutting himself down, Pettitte tried in vain, struggling to a 14-14 mark with a 4.54 ERA (second highest of his career).
After the Yankees missed the playoffs, Pettitte considered retiring, but felt a strong desire to pitch in the new Yankee Stadium. What a decision that turned out to be, because in 2009 he helped pitch the Yankees to World Series championship, his fifth in pinstripes.
The urge to repeat, like the Yankees did in his younger days in the late ‘90’s, brought him back again in 2010. After a brilliant start sent the 38-year old to the All-Star Game for the first time in nearly a decade, a groin injury sidelined him for two months in the second half, and that was the beginning of the end for Andy Pettitte. A man of tremendous faith, Pettitte said Friday that might have been a sign from above preparing him for what he knew was coming, that it was time walk away.
There may never have been a better “team player” than Pettitte, who physically could probably still do the job. He was working towards coming back in 2011, feeling immense pressure for how much the Yankees and their fans needed him after not getting Cliff Lee. In fact, when Lee signed with Philadelphia in December is when Pettitte decided he needed to start working out again in preparation for the season.
Three weeks ago he told Brian Cashman he might give it a go. Two weeks ago he told himself he was coming back. But something else told Pettitte it was time to go. Always the strongest of competitors, the drive that made him that way was no longer there:
Listen to Andy Pettitte there, and you get the same feeling the rest of us do every time we hear him speak—that he’s speaking from his heart, and that its impossible not to like him. A conversation with Andy always included a big grin and that goofy chuckle, delivered with a Texas twang and Southern charm.
Even when he was admitting to the dark secret of his HGH use, it was hard to muster anything more than a good old-fashioned “Aw, Heck!” and pat him on the back. Pettitte comes off as the guy you want your daughter to marry, and from this day forward he will be welcome at any family reunion, a heartfelt ovation waiting for him at every Old-Timer’s Day.
Andy Pettitte will be remembered as a great Yankee. Today, that’s all we should remember. His Hall of Fame candidacy will be played out much further down the road with his pitching record, his standing against contemporaries and past greats, and sadly, his PED use all part of the equation.
But for now, remember Andy Pettitte this way: Steely eyes peering through that narrow slit between the bill of his cap and the tip of his glove, ready to deliver another perfect pitch.
How will you remember Andy Pettitte? Let us know in the comments below…