Pettitte calls it a career after 16 years, five rings
Pettitte calls it a career after 16 years, five rings
By Bryan Hoch
NEW YORK -- All these years, Andy Pettitte figured it would be his left elbow that sent the inevitable message to head home and call it a career. He never expected it to come from his heart.
Appearing ready as ever to face big league hitters, Pettitte instead officially retired from baseball on Friday, acknowledging his memorable 16-year career is now complete.
Taking a seat inside the walls of Yankee Stadium, the 38-year-old left-hander -- owner of 240 Major League victories, plus an all-time record 19 more in the postseason -- said that he just didn't feel the drive to put the pinstripes back on.
"My arm feels great. My body feels great. I know that my body would get where it needs to be, but my heart is not where it needs to be," Pettitte said. "I just feel like if I have any kind of hesitation on doing this, my heart is not fully completely sold out to do this again."
The decision took Pettitte months in an agonizing process, but that is not anything new. For at least the last five years, Pettitte had weighed the idea of retirement on some level, making no secret of his desire to get back home with his wife, Laura, and their four children.
Pettitte kept waiting for that elbow to ache, eroding his pitches to batting-practice fastballs, but inevitably winter would turn to spring and everything seemed to respond as it should -- something he expressed amazement about in private moments.
The body said it was still willing to make those pitches, so Pettitte would tug his cap down low over his eyes and throw, burying strikes in the zone as the Yankees plowed toward October -- where, coincidentally, Pettitte was always at his best.
"Being on the New York Yankees, you have an opportunity to play with some of the greatest players to ever play in the game. That is fun," Pettitte said. "You have a chance to win a championship every year, and that has been fun, and it has been special. I have to thank the Steinbrenner family for that."
Though his 240 career wins are the 13th most by a left-hander in Major League history, the postseason is where Pettitte's greatest form was found, as the all-time leader in postseason wins, starts (42) and innings pitched (263).
A five-time World Series winner with the Yankees -- 1996, 1998-2000 and '09 -- Pettitte appeared in three other Fall Classics, and he is tied for second in postseason strikeouts (173) with Roger Clemens, 26 behind John Smoltz.
Even with a three-year departure to pitch for the Astros from 2004-06, Pettitte's Yankees legacy is secure. His 203 victories rank third in franchise history, behind Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231), and his 1,823 strikeouts are second to Ford in team history.
"Andy played with a competitive spirit that brought out the best in the teams he played for, and he exemplified this franchise's commitment and will to win," Hal and Hank Steinbrenner said in a statement. "He was an anchor for the tremendous success our team has achieved since the mid-1990s.
"A person and player the caliber of Andy Pettitte does not come around often, and he has earned the right to be considered among the greats that have worn the pinstripes."
Andy Pettitte is one of the most decorated pitchers in baseball history.
All-time K's for Yankees
All-time wins for Yankees
All-time wins for LHP
All-time K's for LHP
Pettitte was an All-Star last year for New York, going 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts despite missing two months with a left groin injury, with which he expressed disappointment and frustration.
But it was after his last playoff series, with his back and hamstring aching and his Yankees being outplayed by a hot Rangers club, that Pettitte knew this year's decision might be more difficult than all the rest.
As the Yankees scattered to the winds in the wake of the American League Championship Series loss to the Rangers, Pettitte told his teammates and general manager Brian Cashman not to count on his return.
"At the end of the season last year, I started losing a little bit of that desire to compete," Pettitte said. "I guess because I was out of it for the two and a half months of the second half, so I definitely thought about it. For me, it's not the right way to do it. That's all that I kept telling myself: 'This isn't the right way to do it.'"
The Yankees held out hope, knowing that Pettitte had been swayed before and might be again. As weeks turned into months, Pettitte continued to communicate with Cashman, who promised that there was money on the table -- $12 million for 2011 -- if Pettitte wanted to sign the paperwork and earn it.
Pettitte came close about two weeks ago, even telling his wife that he could torture himself for another season and go through the paces, revving his body up to pitch. At Laura's urging, Pettitte started to throw around Christmas, and he found that the body -- as always -- was ready for another run at a World Series title.
"He told me after we played the Rangers in the playoffs that he felt that was it, that it was the last time he'd pitch," Laura Pettitte said. "He'd always ask me, 'What are you thinking?' For some reason, I feel like if you're not 100 percent done, you have to try it one more time."
"He's at peace with his decision. It's certainly something that he wants to do. He clearly can continue pitching at a high level, be successful, be part of a championship-caliber run. But again, he's looking for a new passion in life, and he'll find it."
-- Brian Cashman
The decision came as Pettitte began to envision himself stuffing those suitcases and saying goodbye to his children, ages 16 through 5. And suddenly, the only life Pettitte has known as an adult no longer felt right for him.
"I just didn't think that I could be fully committed to it the way I needed to be and the way I wanted to be for the fans," Pettitte said.
Through the entire process, Cashman served as Pettitte's de facto mouthpiece for the media and said he appreciated Pettitte's honesty as he weighed his options. Cashman's phone buzzed on Tuesday night as Pettitte relayed his final word on the subject.
"He's at peace with his decision. It's certainly something that he wants to do," Cashman said. "He clearly can continue pitching at a high level, be successful, be part of a championship-caliber run. But again, he's looking for a new passion in life, and he'll find it."
Excursions to sunny destinations, Little League games and volleyball matches await, but there is a less pleasant item on Pettitte's immediate agenda.
Having admitted to his previous human growth hormone use on two occasions in 2002 and '04, and expected to be a key prosecution witness in the federal perjury trial of former teammate Roger Clemens this summer, Pettitte insisted the proceedings had "no impact" on the decision to retire.
"I would never let that interfere with a life decision I make for me and my family," Pettitte said. "It's had no impact on my decision. It's had no impact on my life."
So it seems that Pettitte's ride, beginning as a 22nd-round selection of the Yankees in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft and finishing with a career winning percentage of .635 (240-138), will end here.
Pettitte pitched for eight pennant winners and 12 postseason teams. Perhaps his most memorable postseason performance occurred in his first World Series, in 1996, when he outdueled Smoltz in Game 5 for a 1-0 victory and a 3-2 Series lead over the Braves.
"Catching him in 1996 and for four years, being able to coach him, manage him -- knowing the type of person he is, we're really going to miss him as a person," manager Joe Girardi said. "We always talk about players and how great the players are. This is a wonderful person. We're going to miss that."
Pettitte's departure turns the "Core Four" into the "Key Three," breaking up the quartet of himself, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, all of whom debuted with the Yankees in 1995.
"It's 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," Jeter said in a statement.
"I will not pitch this season, I can assure you of that, and I do not plan on pitching again. I think taking the mound every fifth day is over. I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life, and figuring out what that is. I don't want it to be anything except hanging out with my family."
-- Andy Pettitte
"More importantly, it's 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."
Added Posada: "I'm really sad that Andy is going to retire. 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."
Pettitte was most emotional during his 46-minute formal question-and-answer session when talking about his teammates, his voice cracking as he spoke about how they had urged him to "do what's right for your family and do what's right in your heart."
"We just have such a great relationship and such a great feel," Pettitte said. "I'm going to miss that so much, going out there and taking the mound and looking back there and seeing Jeet, seeing Sado, and then looking out in that bullpen and knowing that you've got Mariano to close the game out for you. Those guys are huge reasons that I've been able to be as successful as I have. They have just been so great for me. They're special players and special friends. That'll be tough."
Pettitte already plans to coach his sons' youth teams and won't completely tune out baseball -- he plans to spend some time on the couch watching the Yankees, and a call to his cellular phone carrier might be a wise decision.
"I can tell you, I'll be sending a lot of text messages out, because I won't be able to be in their ear in the dugout," Pettitte said. "The guys that are pitching, telling them, 'Do this, do that, you're not doing that.' I'll be sending text messages to everybody. It's a lot easier to watch it on TV and tell them what they're doing wrong. I'm sure I'm going to have an opinion on a lot of stuff."
A second life as a pitching coach -- a real one who speaks in more than 140 characters -- is too hectic for Pettitte, another commitment that runs from February through the end of the season. And as for getting back on the mound, Pettitte didn't come to this announcement lightly and believes the answer to that should be clear.
"I will not pitch this season, I can assure you of that, and I do not plan on pitching again," Pettitte said. "I think taking the mound every fifth day is over. I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life, and figuring out what that is. I don't want it to be anything except hanging out with my family."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.