By Jason Keidel
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Some signings are more symbolic than monetary.
And for a team that trades on tradition, symbolism and success, the Yankees just took a giant leap toward remaining competitive, if not contenders, in 2013 by signing Andy Pettitte – the closest the post-Boomer babies will ever come to Whitey Ford.
And despite his dalliance with the Astros, Pettitte will always be viewed through a pinstriped prism.
Pettitte is 40, pitches like he's 30, and has the injury history of an AARP cardholder. Can he give the Yankees 25 starts and fresh limbs in October? The answer could be the difference between a team in decline or retooling and rewiring their newfound frugality. Hal Steinbrenner has been quite adamant about purging payroll while maintaining the team's standard of eternal playoff appearances. So while the $12 million they just committed to Pettitte used to come from petty cash, each dollar is now weighed against the luxury tax.
If we still believe in hokey handles like True Yankees, then procuring Pettitte serves several purposes. Last year he showed that when healthy he still gets hitters out with startling regularity. Without the benefit of spring training, he went 5-4, with a 2.87 ERA over 75 innings, surrendering just 65 hits and striking out 69. And he doubles as an invaluable mentor to the younger, more malleable pitchers trying to secure a spot on the roster.
Pettitte is so beloved that he could be the only player in MLB history to admit he cheated and enjoy a bump in his Q rating. In Houston he teamed with the toxic Roger Clemens, shared his chemist, and still emerged as a victim of circumstance The Rocket, whose fuel tank was loaded with dubious additives, has been shamed into obscurity, as far from Hall of Fame consideration as Steve Trout. Yet Pettitte, who may very well have lied even when he admitted he took HGH – does anyone really believe he only took it twice? – has charmed the masses with the pure force of his humility.
And like all icons, you can't simply measure the man with stats, sabremetrics, or stopwatches. His frequent fits of introspection are to be expected, not only because he's an athlete deep into the back nine of his career, but also because he's at halftime in life. As someone of similar vintage, I often find myself redundantly assessing my life, and I haven't a fraction of Pettitte's traction in the sports world.
Beyond his obvious pitching attributes, Pettitte is comfort food for Yankees fans, New Yorkers, and middle-aged men. Indeed, other than the gray penciled across his mane Pettitte looks, talks, and acts much like the aw, shucks country rookie we so quickly adored and adopted in the '90s. He and Mariano Rivera remind us that life doesn't end at 40, that there are a few metaphorical bullets left in the chamber for those with a healthy and hearty desire to succeed.
Rivera can name his price, especially since Rafael Soriano bolted for greener pastures and paychecks. The fact that three-quarters of the Core Four is still playing is impressive enough; that they are still performing close to Torre Dynasty dimensions is unprecedented.
And Andy Pettitte is far more than ornamental, a tattered flag from the halcyon years. He's actually mowing them down. Again, the only problem is the constellation of injuries he's sure to navigate again this season.
And yet it says here that the $12 million the Yanks are about to drop on Andy is a bargain. His work ethic is incomparable, his modesty disarming, and his public persona doubling as a spiritual Snuggie for Yankees fans who see an aging roster, shrinking payroll, and A-Rod shuttling between third base, DH, and Page Six for the next six years.
Should Michael Pineda pitch to some of his rookie form, the Yankees have a pretty righteous rotation. CC Sabathia leads the way, followed by Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Pineda and Ivan Nova. Since injured arms are as common as sunflower seeds scattered across the dugout floor, six legitimate starters is merely the beginning.
Bring in Mr. Phelps and you've got seven, which still may not cover the age and aches of their geriatric rotation. But as with everything else in Yankee Universe, they've got more than most, by dint of their budget, persistence, and history – one that includes Andy Pettitte, a True Yankee in this, or any, decade or century.
The only unanswered question about Andy is his place in baseball's pantheon. No one doubts Derek Jeter or Rivera's bona fides, but what about the man who got the game to Mo? What about the guy whose heavy, sinking pitches induced infinite hitters into thudding yet another double-play ball to Jeter?
With ten wins in 2013, Andy Pettitte will pass Jack Morris and Bob Gibson, burnishing his bio for Cooperstown. It says here that with 250 wins, five World Series rings, 19 postseason wins and his legacy as an October monolith who basked in Broadway's glow without burning in its glare, Andy Pettitte is qualified for a bronze bust, even if next year is a bust.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
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