By Ernie Palladino
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A team retiring a uniform number and writers voting someone into the Hall of Fame are two entirely different things. That subject offers little debate.
Yet the Yankees’ decision to retire Andy Pettitte’s uniform on Aug. 23 does make a statement that should catch the attention of the Hall of Fame voters who have kept out Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens and the rest of their suspected or admitted PED-taking brethren.
Something has to be done with these people eventually. Juiced or not, casual users or fanatical, they all helped their teams win pennants and championships. Baseball simply cannot push them aside and act like they never existed.
The Yanks chose not to ignore Pettitte’s accomplishments. They decided that Pettitte contributed plenty to the four World Series titles of the late 1990s and 2000, just as much as his “Core Four” teammates Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, whose own No. 20 goes up on the wall the day before Pettitte’s.
No debate there. The left-hander went 70-39 in those years, and then helped Joe Girardi win another series in 2009. His 19 postseason wins are the most in history.
He also admitted to using HGH two days after the Mitchell Report came out. He said he only used it twice as rehab for an elbow injury.
Usage is usage. If you put a banned substance into your body, you’re cheating. No two ways about it.
The Yanks had no trouble overlooking that, however. Two years after his retirement, his number will go up on the wall.
It will be interesting to see what happens two years, four years, 20 years after Alex Rodriguez hangs them up, given the animosity between the organization and a home-run crusher whose depiction would have him juicing up in the batter’s box.
The issue comes down to public relations versus responsibility. A team can set its own standards as to how the franchise tells its story. The writers have to tell it straight. That’s not happening right now.
The Yanks recognize that Pettitte was well-liked, even by the crusty old media. He stood out there win or lose, took blame on his own shoulders and passed along credit to his teammates. Classy guy. Cheater, but a classy cheater.
A-Rod, not so much. He got suspended for a year and then sued everybody but his mother. Known as a me-first guy, it’s hard to believe his number will ever sit beside Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Berra in the garden beyond the center-field fence. The Yanks can tell their fans, “You want to know about A-Rod? Look him up in the record book.”
One cheater gets honored, while the other — who knows? That’s their right. It’s their story.
The voting scribes have a different standard. When they check off names on the yearly ballot — or pass over them — they have a responsibility to the history of the game. They are charged with telling that story without prejudice.
As things stand now, a huge gap exists in that narrative. The all-time home-run king, Bonds, doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown. Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers on the planet, doesn’t have a plaque. If the views of many don’t change, there’s no way A-Rod gets in, even if he surpasses Willie Mays in homers and finishes behind Bonds, Hank Aaron and the Babe.
The greats of the steroid era — those who were revealed as cheaters after their playing days ended or were caught, suspended and allowed back into the game — have no representation on the Hall’s hallowed walls.
The gap has to be closed, and it is up to the Hall of Fame to provide the remedy. Whether it’s a separate section, an asterisk at the bottom of the plaque — whatever — Cooperstown must come up with an acceptable denotation to allow the complete story of baseball to be told.
When or how that happens is anybody’s guess.
The point today is that the Yankees will put an admitted cheater on their wall on Aug. 23. Pettitte is part of their story, and they have decided not to ignore him.
The Hall of Fame voters must find a way to do the same. Otherwise, the story of baseball will remain incomplete.