Sunday, September 29, 2013

How Money, PEDs and the Hall of Fame Took Out (Another) Potential 300 Game Winner

Next Stop, TBD
Tonight in Houston, in a game that adds another memory to a year filled with all kinds of bittersweet for Yankee Fan, Andy Pettitte ended his career with a complete game win over the Astros. It's his 25th complete game, his 255th win, and ensured that in this, his final season, he would still avoid having a single year in the majors with a losing record.

It's also, well, one more way in which we are maybe never going to see another 300 win career.

It's not that Pettite can't still pitch. He went over 200 innings this year, for the first time since 2008. His ERA was under 4, and since he pitches half of his games in a borderline wind tunnel, that's not nothing. He doesn't strike out many people any more, but the control is still tight, and he's probably forgotten more about pitching than just about anyone else in baseball has ever learned. And while it's hard to imagine that a 41-year-old would stick around for 4-5 years of starts, it's not impossible. (Of course, if you add the post-season wins, he gets up to 274, and he's maybe just 2-3 seasons away.) Pitching 200 innings of league average or better ERA while left-handed, with incomparable post-season experience, gets you a job on just about any team in baseball.

But the first part is the money. Pettitte has made just under $139 million in 18 years as a baseball player, and while he hasn't exactly been an endorsement magnet, it's probably not a stretch to say he's made $150 million over the years. Even under the worst possible tax and investment situations, it's hard to see how he doesn't have more than enough jack for the rest of his days. Another $5 to $10 million isn't going to change those numbers very much.

And the second part is the Hall. Thanks to his past as a confessed PED cheater, there's no obvious path to the Hall for him right now. No admitted PED user has gotten anywhere close to the vote in mark, and Pettitte's not likely to be the first. Maybe the social mores change in the next 5 years, but it's not as if there's been a groundswell of rising support.

Finally, there's this. As good, durable, and honored as Petttite has been, there's no doubt that he's going to be overshadowed, just as he was this year, by Mariano Rivera when the Hall votes. Rivera's the best closer in the history of the game, but some voters aren't going to vote for him in the first year because they don't do that for anyone, let alone a closer. The year after that, Pettite's second year of candidacy might run straight into the teeth of the Derek Jeter ascension, and that's another slam dunkish vote. The first time he's got a run at it alone turns into 2020, his third year, with more of the baseball public aged out from caring that much about pitching wins, and no cachet to his candidacy.

Personally, I'd keep going if I were him. It's not like the life of a baseball player is a terrible one, and technology makes travel a lot less difficult and damaging to family life. Wikipedia has him married to his high school sweetheart with four kids, which means he's lived this way for a long time. More time with the family isn't always the best thing for a stable relationship. This modern era of athletes leaving something on the table doesn't really work for me.

But maybe I'm missing things, and the money and the Hall aren't the deciding factors. Maybe playing without Rivera is just not something he wants to do. Maybe the Yankee locker room isn't a comfortable place for a guy with Pettitte's devoutly Christian beliefs any more. Perhaps he knows, deep in his gut, that he's been doing it with mirrors this year, and wants to control the last memory.

But I do know this. If he needed the money, or thought that 15 to 20 more wins would make the difference, he'd be signed for next year. And maybe the year after that, too.

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