COMMENTARY | Andy Pettitte stands as one of the winningest pitchers in modern baseball history.
He retired at the end of the 2013 season, yet some Hall of Fame voters have already formed a consensus that while he was a very, very good pitcher, he is not worthy of induction. If it were not for Roger Clemens urging his teammate to take human growth hormone to help recover from a 2004 elbow injury, the discussion about Pettitte's HOF chances would be substantially different.
In an effort to sanitize the legacy of steroids in baseball, the Baseball Writers Association of America has decreed that all those guilty or under suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs are to be barred from Cooperstown. This is the same group that awarded the aforementioned Clemens seven Cy Young Awards, including in 2004 when he was 42 years old.
Pettitte's style of pitching showed that he did not gain dominance from PEDs, and he came across as credible when admitting that he used them to aid recovery from one injury during a specific time period. His postseason success and prolonged success should vault him to the Hall but likely will not.
Pettitte's Robust Case for the Hall
Pettitte's sparkling career included more than just five championship rings and a litany of the letter T in his surname. He sported one of the nastiest 12-to-6 curve balls in recent memory and was a model of consistency. He made 30 starts 14 different times and never posted a losing season. He finished second for the 1996 Cy Young and was in the top six in four other seasons over the next 10 years.
Benefiting from the expanded playoff format introduced in 1994 and a powerhouse New York Yankees team, Pettitte became the most prolific postseason pitcher on a number of fronts. He has more playoff wins (19), starts (44) and innings (276.2) than any other hurler. He also has a record five series-clinching wins on his resume, including all three series in the Yanks' 2009 World Series campaign.
His 256 career wins rank 11th among lefties, and all of them are or will be Hall of Famers except Jamie Moyer, Jim Kaat and Tommy John. As more and more promising pitchers have their careers diminished by injury, Pettitte's constancy should be commended as opposed to dismissed. He finished with more wins than Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter and Pedro Martinez. Yes, he had the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera finishing those wins, but Pettitte's job was precisely to get the ball to Mo, and he did just that time and time again.
Unfortunately, for Pettitte, modern statisticians have lobbied hard to devalue to win for starting pitchers. They are willing to ignore a pitcher's ability to last late into a game on guts and grit despite not having his best stuff and keeping his team in a position to win.
For what it's worth, Pettitte's career wins above replacement (WAR) of 60.9 ranks better than Red Ruffing, Mordecai Brown, Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax. His adjusted ERA (ERA-plus) of 117 is better than Steve Carlton and Don Sutton. Granted, Pettitte's Hall of Fame case is not overwhelming and pitchers with better statistics in the regular season have fallen short of Cooperstown, but Pettitte's postseason achievements should set him apart and punch his ticket. Unfortunately, it likely will not as the writers continue to castigate those who ever took PEDs or even fell under suspicion.Baseball Writers, Arbiters of Integrity?
Baseball writers need to dismount their high horses and stop holding the Hall of Fame hostage. Widespread steroids use and home-run fever saved baseball following the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series, and now the writers wish to make reparations for collectively turning a blind eye.
The HOF voters have seemingly agreed all players who are suspected of taking PEDs or admitted to taking them even briefly should be shut out of the Hall in perpetuity. Wallace Matthews of ESPN and Jay Jaffe of SI.com are just two examples of those who write that Pettitte will have to buy a ticket to get into Cooperstown.
Baseball is a sport with a tainted history. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson never played against African-Americans. The entire league took amphetamines for decades. Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry notoriously doctored his baseball using a smorgasbord of spit, Vaseline and K-Y Jelly. Fellow HOFer Phil Niekro preferred good old sandpaper. Now, the writers have decided to become sanctimonious judges of conduct and character?
Perhaps decades after Pettitte shuffles off this mortal coil, a melancholic Veteran's Committee will vote him in, but the writers have dug their heels in and refuse to budge, as Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire can attest.
Steroids and Opaque Ethics
Another baseball great and PED suspect who may remain out of the Hall of Fame is Jeff Bagwell, a teammate of Pettitte's with the Houston Astros, which included their NL pennant season in 2005 when the lefty went 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA.
Bagwell offered a frank interview with Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, and he delineated a complicating distinction with the writers' stance on PEDs: "Andy came out and said, 'Listen, my elbow was killing me. I was making $12-13 million a year, and they told me it was going to help me and all I wanted to do was pitch.' I mean, how can you even argue that? That's not a performance enhancer. That's just a guy who wanted to get healthy … I'll play on the same team with that dude every single day of the week, because all he wanted to do was compete. I have no problems with Andy Pettitte doing what he did."
Unfortunately, for Pettitte, Bagwell is not a member of the BWAA, and the writers are more than willing to throw both the baby and the bathwater out of the HOF discussion.
Pettitte never had seasons of insane dominance, but he was a model of elite consistency and clutch performance. He took HGH during one period to recover from a specific injury. He admitted it and was contrite. Though his integrity remained relatively intact, the writers seem intent on a hypocritical zero-tolerance policy.
Regardless, nothing can change the fact that Pettitte was one of the most valuable pitchers in modern history, and absent the BBWA's new-found ethical obsession, he is a Hall of Famer.
Sean Hojnacki writes about baseball and football for Time Warner and basketball for Bleacher Report. His writing has also appeared on The Classical, Salon.com and briefly on Twitter. He lives in Jersey City, NJ with his wife and a cat named after Melky Cabrera.
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