By Joe Giglio
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As Andy Pettitte prepares to depart the game of baseball for good, a quick rush to define his career will take place in New York and around the sport.
For a pitcher with as much longevity, accolades, championships and — as much as it’s forgotten around New York, performance-enhancing drug controversy — surrounding the narrative of his career, Pettitte’s legacy isn’t a simple equation.
Years from now, Pettitte’s career and accomplishments will settle in to give Yankees fans a deeper understanding of what he was for 18 years, 15 of which came in the Bronx. But regardless of how Pettitte’s career is ultimately presented to future generations, there’s one word that will never, ever be left out of the description: Winner.
Despite ending his career in an era that has devalued the “win” for starting pitchers, Pettitte is the pitcher from this generation that should garner the quickest association with the old-school baseball term.
To be honest, I totally agree with the devaluing of individual wins, especially in the context of evaluating pitchers based on circumstances out of their control. Due to innings limits, pitch counts, specialized bullpens and five-man rotations, the idea of comparing win totals from star pitchers now to aces of even 30 years ago is an absurd notion. MLB Network’s Brian Kenny has championed a #killthewin campaign on Twitter to the delight of sabermetricians and any baseball fan ready for progress.
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule or way of thinking. With the win, or, winning in general, that exception is Pettitte.
Whether you are new-school, old-school or somewhere in between when it comes to evaluating baseball players, Pettitte’s status as an all-time winner on an all-time winning franchise will live forever.
With 255 career regular-season victories, Pettitte racked up more wins than Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax or Juan Marchial.
Yes, it’s worth noting that Pettitte pitched behind a great team with excellent run support, and he almost always had the greatest closer of all time willing and able to pitch the ninth inning to secure a victory for Pettitte.
But it’s also worth nothing Pettitte’s ability to stay healthy, make 30-plus starts in 14 different seasons and pitch deep enough into games to take advantage of run support and a great closer.
While 255 victories and counting — with two starts left — is impressive, Pettitte’s 19 postseason victories stamp him as an all-time big-game pitcher.
From the 1-0 pitchers’ duel with John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series to the finishing touch in Game 4 of the 1998 sweep over San Diego to pitching the closeout victory of every round on the path to a 2009 World Series victory, Pettitte made a living of winning big games.
When conjuring up legacies for retired athletes, single words or phrases often come to mind. Despite debuting and thriving in an offensive era, a slew of great pitchers entered the game of baseball in the ’80s and ’90s, along with Pettitte.
Martinez was dominant. Roger Clemens was the most valuable pitcher. Greg Maddux was brilliant. Randy Johnson was overwhelming. Mike Mussina was underrated.
Pettitte? He was a winner.
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