Results tagged ‘ Mitchell Report ’
The day I arrived at what was the last spring training the Yankees had at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1995, then manager Buck Showalter drove up to me in a golf cart on the sidelines of the main field and said, “Hop in; I want you to see someone.”
He drove to me to one of the back fields where two pitchers were warming up. I have long forgotten who one of them was, but the one I remember was Andy Pettitte. He wasn’t as cut as he would later become; he still had some love handles, but one pitch after the other sunk with stinging action.
Showalter, who grew up in the Florida panhandle and attended Mississippi State University, had an affinity for Southern players. Still does, probably, so I said to him, “Okay, which is it? Louisiana or Arkansas?”
“Texas,” Buck said. “You can’t quote me on this, but this guy might win 15 games for us this year.”
“Pretty tall order for a rookie,” I said.
Showalter missed on his prediction. Pettitte won 12 games, not 15, but he helped stabilize a rotation snagged by an injury to Jimmy Key, who finished second to David Cone, then with the Royals, in the previous year’s American League Cy Young Award race, and was a key ingredient in the Yankees’ reaching post-season play for the first time in 15 years, as the newfangled wild card.
Pettitte’s victory total was second on the staff only to another former Cy Young Award winner, Jack McDowell, who was 15-10. Pettitte’s 12-9 record and 4.17 ERA was not overwhelming, but it was good enough for him to finish third in the AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award voting behind winner Marty Cordova of the Twins and runner-up Garret Anderson of the Angels, a couple of outfielders.
The lefthander started Game 2 of the Division Series against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium and was not involved in the decision, a 7-5 Yankees victory on a two-run home run in the 15th inning by Jim Leyritz that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series before they went 0-for-Seattle.
With Showalter gone after turning down a two-year contract offer from George Steinbrenner, Pettitte had to prove himself all over again to a new manager, Joe Torre, in 1996. It wasn’t easy, either. Torre at first thought Pettitte, a deeply religious person, was a bit soft. Yet start after start, Pettitte kept the Yankees in games, and he ended up winning 21 of them and becoming a Cy Young Award candidate, although he finished second in the voting to the Blue Jays’ Pat Hentgen.
Pettitte never came closer to winning that award, but even better he won over Torre with 8 1/3 gutty innings of shutout ball in Game 5 of the World Series at Atlanta, a 1-0 Yankees victory that put them up 3-2 and in position to take the Series two nights later, which they did. From that point on, Torre never questioned Pettitte’s toughness again.
Here is what Joe said about Andy the other day:
“Andy took the ball every five days, and if he had it his way, he’d get it more often than that. What’s really unusual about him is that a lot of times pitchers are more consumed with themselves. Andy was probably the consummate team player, especially for a pitcher. He was so concerned not only about the day he pitched but he always had his arm around a young guy in between starts.
“He has been a huge favorite of mine because he’s such a stand up guy, and he hasn’t changed from day one. He was a great teammate, and I think that’s why he won so many games. The guys that play behind him understand how intense he is, and it becomes contagious.
“I think the impact he had on the teams we had in the mid-to-late 1990′s was enormous even though he was never the guy in the spotlight. He liked the fact that he wasn’t the No. 1 guy even though I trusted him like a No. 1 guy. But he didn’t have an ego that dictated he needed all that attention.
“He did a great job of channeling his energy into competing, and he was about as consistent a performer as anybody in terms of getting your money’s worth. He glued our staff together. When you’re performing with the same people year-in and year-out, it’s always nice to have that security blanket. He was certainly that guy on the pitching staff.”
For other managers, the Astros’ Jimy Williams and Phil Garner and the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, Pettitte proved just as reliable in a career he brought to a halt this week. There were no tears at Friday’s announcement. Pettitte thought long and hard about this decision, and when he said “My heart isn’t in it anymore,” that’s all he needed to say. Once a player no longer has the stomach for the game, it is time to go.
That Game 5 of the 1996 World Series four nights after the Braves handed his head to him in Game 1 remains the centerpiece of Pettitte’s Yankees career, but there were plenty of other times when he gave the Yankees everything they needed from a pitcher.
He was the Most Valuable Player of the 2001 AL Championship Series when he won both his starts and held a Seattle team that had won 116 games during the regular season to four runs in 14 1/3 innings. Even in defeat, Pettitte could be magnificent, such as the Game 6 showdown with the Marlins’ Josh Beckett in the 2003 World Series, Andy’s last start for the Yankees before signing as a free agent with his hometown Houston club.
Three years later, Pettitte was back with the Yankees reunited with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and helped ring in the new Yankee Stadium by winning the clinching games of all three post-season series in 2009 as the team achieved its 27th championship. Last year, he was a Cy Young Award candidate for half the season before a groin injury cost him at least a dozen starts. Now he is the first of the “Core Four” to call it quits.
“Andy was a great teammate and a wonderful guy,” Rivera said. “He was a fighter and all about winning, and he was respected by every person in the clubhouse.”
“I’m really sad that Andy is going to retire,” Posada said.”He was so much more than a teammate to me; he was one of my closest friends. I admire everything that he has accomplished as a Yankee, but Andy was someone who always put the team first. I’m going to miss him deeply.”
Added Jeter: “It has been a pleasure to play with Andy for all these years, and the Yankees have been fortunate to have him representing the organization both on and off the field. More importantly, it has been an honor to get to know him as a person, and I consider him family. I wish for nothing but happiness for him and his family, as I know how important they are to him.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for Hall of Fame talk about Pettitte to sprout. Let’s give it the five-year wait before getting serious about that. Pettitte has a lot going for him – a won-loss record more than 100 games over .500 at 240-138, a post-season record 19 victories, and winning five rings in eight World Series overall. He also has some things going against him – allowing more hits than innings pitched, a rather high ERA (3.88) and three more dangerous capital letters, HGH, which he admitted to using after his name surfaced in the Mitchell Report.
His path to Cooperstown won’t be smooth. Over the next few years, the ballot will contain the names of starting pitchers superior to him in terms of statistics – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, even Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina.
“I’ve never considered myself a Hall of Famer,” Pettitte said. “I guess I’ve gotten close to having those kinds of credentials or guys wouldn’t be talking about it.”
The writers who do the voting will be talking about him for a while. But to Yankees fans, Pettitte will always be in their personal Halls of Fame for his competitiveness and remarkable consistency.
As each year comes to a close, baseball writers center on their annual responsibility of voting for the Hall of Fame. Ballots are mailed out to writers Dec. 1 and due back in the hands to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America by a Dec. 31 postmark.
So it is not just Santa Claus who makes a list and checks it twice come the Christmas season.
As secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, I have conducted the election since 1995, the year Mike Schmidt was elected. I will be busy with Hall of Fame business the next few days but will find time to share some thoughts with Yankees fans about the election. Results will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday on bbwaa.com, baseballhall.org, MLB.com and the MLB Network.
The ballot contains 33 names this year, eight of whom spent a portion of their careers with the Yankees, including two of the most popular figures in the franchise’s history, first basemen Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Others on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees are pitchers Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Lee Smith, outfielders Tim Raines and Raul Mondesi and first baseman John Olerud.
Mattingly has been on the ballot for 10 years and has never done better than 28 percent of the vote going back to his first year. To gain entry into Cooperstown, 75 percent is required. Mattingly was at 16.1 percent last year. Martinez, his successor at first base for the Yankees, is a first-time candidate this year. It is doubtful writers will find Tino’s candidacy all that compelling, any more than they did another Yankees fan favorite Paul O’Neill two years ago. Martinez’s goal should be to get five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot, which players must do to stay in contention for the full 15 years of eligibility. O’Neill failed to do that and was dropped after one year.
Brown, whose time with the Yankees was filled with controversy, had a fine career, but New York fans rarely saw him at his best except when he pitched against the Yankees for the Rangers. Yankees fans know Brown for breaking his pitching hand in anger and his implosion on the mound in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship, the franchise’s worst moment.
Leiter started and ended his career with the Yankees but had his best seasons with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets. His 162-132 record and 3.80 ERA does not spell immortality.
Raines, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He came to the Yankees after years with the Expos and White Sox and was a key role player on the World Series title teams of 1996, ’98 and ’99. With 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases, Raines has some Hall of Fame numbers, but after three years on the ballot he has done no better than 30 percent.
Smith, Olerud and Mondesi had limited time in pinstripes. Olerud and Mondesi are on the ballot for the first time and are not likely to get the five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot. Smith, who pitched in only eight games for the Yankees in 1993, once held the major-record for saves with 478 but has yet to attract even half the vote in eight previous elections.
The favorites this time around are second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, each of whom came close last year. Blyleven was on 74.2 percent of the ballots cast and missed by five votes. Alomar missed by eight votes at 397, or 73.7 percent.
The only player not to get elected when eligible the year after getting more than 70 percent in the vote was pitcher Jim Bunning. He was on 74 percent of the ballots in 1988 and missed by four votes. The next year, however, with a thicker ballot consisting of first-year inductees Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski and fellow pitching greats Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, Bunning lost 34 votes and dropped 11 percent in his final year on the ballot. He was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
The most accomplished of the new names are first basemen Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro and outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker. Palmeiro and Gonzalez will have a rough time.
Despite being only the fourth player in history to get more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Palmeiro is a long shot because of his positive test for anabolic steroids in 2005, the same year he testified before Congress that he had never taken them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, the only other members of both the 3,000 Hit and 500 Home Run Clubs were elected in their first years of eligibility.
Gonzales, a two-time AL Most Valuable Player, showed up in the Mitchell Report as a steroids user, which could hurt his chances for a big vote. After all, Mark McGwire with his 587 home runs has been on the ballot for four years and is hovering at 23 percent.
Bagwell, who had an amazing career (.297, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs, .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage), never failed a drug test but faced suspicions of possible performance-enhancing aid after he felt in love with the weight room in the mid-1990s. Walker, like Bagwell a National League MVP, had some very good years in Montreal and then some monster years in Colorado. Will the Coors Field effect hurt his chances?
See, this voting stuff isn’t easy. After thorough study, I finally filled out my ballot.
Checks went to Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Walker, Mattingly, Raines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris.
My take on Bagwell was that he is innocent until proved guilty. Larkin is following a path not dissimilar to another NL MVP middle infielder who took a few years to get to Cooperstown, Ryne Sandberg. Ask any Yankees fan who watched the 1995 Division Series about Edgar Martinez, who was simply one of the greatest right-handed hitters I ever saw. McGriff, who came through the Yankees system but was traded away, slugged 493 homers the clean way and made a major difference on the only Atlanta Braves team to win a World Series. Morris was the ace of every staff for which he pitched, including three teams that won the World Series – the 1984 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays.
Let the arguments begin. I’ll be back after the election.