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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Pettitte helped redefine Yankees

Pettitte helped redefine Yankees

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Pettitte helped redefine Yankees

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

NEW YORK -- Andy Pettitte's legacy will be that he helped redefine the New York Yankees. Roll that thought around in your mind for a moment. Think Andy will be OK being remembered that way?

Yeah, he'll be fine with that.

He'll never come out and say it, because he never has been much with words. In 18 seasons, he has yet to utter a memorable quote. That's another point. In fact, that's part of the charm of the man.

He never had to take back anything he said, because he was so decent and so kind and so utterly likable that he was just, well, Andy. Has anyone ever heard him utter a negative word about another human being?

For that matter, have you ever heard anyone say they didn't like Andy Pettitte? I'll answer that one for you. No, you haven't.

He was a pretty basic man. He worked hard and pitched well and tried to be the best teammate he could be. Teammates will tell you he was a large player behind the scenes, that his relentless work ethic and drive and poise impacted other Yankees, young and old. They'll also tell you he was driven to succeed in a way few people knew.

"We laugh because he's always yelling at himself, talking to himself on the mound," Derek Jeter said Friday after Pettitte announced that he would retire after this season. "He expects to be perfect. It's the reason why he has had so much success over the years."

He wasn't perfect. He was named in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in 2006. He then wrote the textbook on how to handle such a thing. He released a statement saying, yep, he'd done it.

He was injured in 2004 after beginning a three-year stint with his hometown Astros, and he went looking for a miracle cure. When he showed up at Spring Training in 2007, he sat down and took questions for almost 40 minutes.

He apologized to the Yankees and to his teammates. He said he hoped people would forgive him. When he was done, there was nothing left to say on the subject. He'd admitted it. He'd apologized.

Now, when you think of Andy Pettitte, there are probably a dozen different things that come to mind before performance-enhancing substances. Still, he brought up PEDs during his retirement news conference at Yankee Stadium on Friday.

"I've kind of danced around that a little bit over the last five or six years," he said. "I hate that any young person or whatever would ever think that I was trying to do something to cheat this game or to cheat other players or whatever."

Now about his real legacy. Remember what the Yankees used to be in the two decades before Pettitte arrived? They were George and Billy, George and Lou, Billy and Reggie.

Even when they were a really good baseball team, the focus always seemed to be on stuff that went on in the clubhouse and the tabloids.

Everything changed around 1996. Pettitte arrived in '95. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera became full-time Yankees a year later. Joe Torre became the manager in '96, and the foundation for one of the great runs in Yankee history was in place.

"Our personalities clicked right away," Jeter said. "We had the same mindsets."

It was impossible to dislike these Yankees. Torre managed to keep the usual noise out in the hallway, and in Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, etc., the Yankees had a group of consummate professionals who attempted to be good citizens of the game in both performance and personality.

They won the World Series four times in their first five years together, between 1996-2000. Torre later said that Pettitte's 1-0 victory over John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series might have been the single biggest pitching performance of the era.

Pettitte pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings in the clinching game of the 1998 World Series and closed out every round of the playoffs when the Yankees won in 2009. He has a 19-11 postseason record on a resume that includes 44 postseason starts and 255 regular-season victories.

His place in Yankee history will be debated, because he was never the No. 1 starter. And plenty of others contributed, from David Cone and Tino Martinez to Paul O'Neill and Joe Girardi to Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams and others.

Still, it's impossible to talk about these Yankees without mentioning Pettitte. He's right there on the tip of your tongue behind Jeter, Posada and Rivera because they were true Yankees, the pride of the system.

It'll be interesting to see how he handles retirement. He tried to retire in 2011, but couldn't resist an invitation from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to come back. He's 15-14 in two seasons since returning, and at times this season, has looked all of his 41 years.

When asked to discuss his legacy, Pettitte mentioned things like being a good teammate and giving it everything he had every time he stepped on the field.

"That's one thing I can say, I never took this game for granted," he said. "I never didn't work, I don't feel like, the way that I should to prepare. Whenever I was here, I was all in."

He'll be at a lot of Baylor University baseball games because that's where his oldest son, Josh, is playing. Mostly, though, he'll attempt to blend back into life in the Houston suburbs where he has dozens of family and friends.

My enduring memory of Andy is something completely random from his three seasons with the Astros. After a game in St. Louis, the club was flying home. They were off the next day.

As Pettitte headed for the door, a teammate asked, "What do you have planned for the off-day, Andy?"

Pettitte smiled.

"We're going to boil some crawfish," he said.

Yeah?

"Yep, a bunch of people are coming over," he said.

In describing that scene, Pettitte did a good imitation of the happiest man on earth. It was going to be a day with family and friends, and that was about all he could ask for from life. He joked that he'll be good at retirement because he has already had some practice.

He said he intends to get more involved in his church and watch his kids play games and all that. And here's to more crawfish boils and family and friends in the years ahead.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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