COMMENTARY | In the week following Andy Pettitte's admission into the 250 Win Club, the debate over the left-hander's place in Cooperstown has bubbled again. When Pettitte retired after the 2010 season, I didn't think he was Hall of Fame material. However, since he rejoined the New York Yankees last season, I've started to come around on the lefty's Hall credentials.
As someone who embraces sabermetrics and understands that a pitcher's win total means far less than WHIP, adjusted ERA, and other performance measures, I'm also someone who, like most baseball fans, enjoys tracking milestones. Of course, wins are tied not only to a pitcher's performance but to his team's hitting and, in Pettitte's case, a portion of his 250 wins can be chalked up to his playing on some very good teams. For his career, Pettitte's teammates have provided him with an average of 5.4 runs per game - more than a half run higher than the league average. Also, he's had the luxury of having Mariano Rivera in the bullpen for all but the three years he spent with the Houston Astros.
Nevertheless, as Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times points out, of the 46 pitchers who had previously won 250 or more games, only 8 have reached eligibility for induction and not been elected to the Hall. Of those, four played in the 19th-century dead ball era, three are considered borderline (Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Jack Morris), and one is named Roger Clemens.
Couple Pettitte's 3.85 career ERA with his admission that he used human growth hormone during his career and it's easy to predict that it will be a long road to Cooperstown. If Pettitte finally gets there, it won't come anytime soon, as Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer also predicts. However, I believe that, at some point, baseball writers will allow performance-enhancing drug users into the Hall. That is, if they haven't (unwittingly) already done so.
It's easy to see why Sports on Earth's Jonathan Bernhardt looks to Jack Morris' candidacy to gauge a potential Pettitte vote. (This is Morris' final year of eligibility on the regular ballot.) Bernhardt points out that Pettitte has pitched 600 fewer innings of baseball than Morris did in his 18 years in the majors (3192 IP to 3824 IP) and that Pettitte's career ERA is only five-hundredths of a point lower than Morris'. Both pitchers should gain bonus points for their postseason points, as Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran notes, but I think Pettitte's five World Series rings and flashes of October brilliance should count for more than Morris' postseason numbers. (Corcoran, however, thinks that neither pitcher deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown.)
Personally, I think Pettitte's association with great Yankees teams of the 1990s and 2000s will weigh more on his eventual election than his being part of the 250 Wins Club. Twenty or thirty years from now, I think it would be inconceivable for those teams to only be represented in Cooperstown by Derek Jeter, Rivera, and manager Joe Torre. From Murder's Row to the Big Red Machine, most baseball dynasties are represented by a core of players who were greater than their career numbers reflected. The Hall of Fame would do right to eventually open its doors to Pettitte, but I completely agree with the argument that it shouldn't happen for a long time.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
- Sports & Recreation
- Andy Pettitte
- Jack Morris