Although the wife and I live in Atlanta, and despite the fact that I can’t shake that Red Sox fandom out of her, each summer we make a trek to the Bronx to take in a New York Yankees game with Big Lar and Stace. This year, D-Sant tagged along, which was fitting.
You see, D-Sant, Big Lar, Greene and myself lived at the old Stadium across the street when I lived up North. It was a time when The Captain was king, The Sandman put you to bed and this big lefty stared you down over the end of his glove. While many people questioned this weekend’s activities, I couldn’t have been happier to be at Andy Pettitte Day.
If you are a Yankees fan, you have heard it all this weekend. The New York Yankees retire everybody’s number now. The Steinbrenner’s will do anything for a buck. Pettitte cheated the game. He’s not even a Hall of Famer, he doesn’t deserve his number retired.
Well, guess what folks…
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Yankees Monument Park is a lot like what has become of the Hall of Fame up in Cooperstown. With the most recent Yankees dynasty officially closing its history books with Derek Jeter‘s retirement, Monument Park has become the Hall of Very Good, and not necessarily the Hall of Yankees Legends as it once was.
Paul O’Neill has a plaque. Tino Martinez‘s name is hanging out there. This season Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte joined them and we know both Jeter and Mariano Rivera are on the way. The Yankees may very well be out of numbers soon.
They need to take an approach like — man, I hate to say this — the Dallas Cowboys always have. The Yankees storied past isn’t simply full of fan favorites or superstars. They are names that transformed the game. Babe Ruth made the game what it is. Lou Gehrig would probably still be playing today were he alive. Mickey Mantle‘s name will always come up in the “if only he took care of himself, he’d be the greatest player ever” debate. Reggie Jackson became a cultural icon. How many people are going to be able to top those names in their career?
The Yankees should probably adopt a Ring of Honor type of philosophy, in which players numbers are recognized, but not yet retired. Partially because of how many great players the Yankees have popped out just from being one of MLB’s longest running franchises, and partly because they are going to be needing to use letters pretty soon.
The funny thing is that if Pettitte and Posada were battery mates for five World Champion teams in, let’s say, San Diego, no one would question his legitimacy in getting his number retired. It’s the fact that he is the 21st Yankees number to be retired that makes it highly debatable.
Anyway, as a 40-year old man who grew up a Yankees fan, Sunday was awesome. I lived through some terrible years, some of the worst in Yankees history. Then in 1994 it all began to change. Andy Pettitte was a large part of that. So were all of these guys:
It’s tough to see, I know, we were up kind of high, but you got names like Tino, Paulie, Godzilla, Brosius, Coney, Jorgie, Jeets, Mo, Bernie, Torre and Stick all assembled on the field. It was an incredible day for any Yankees fan who lived the emotional roller coaster of the 80s and 90s. This was a celebration of a team that had a nucleus of five homegrown stars surrounded by other talent that was brought in to make them seemingly invincible.
But the fact remains is that the last few names to go into Monument Park — aside from Torre who is an actual Hall of Famer — are all debatable. Do I think Andy Pettitte deserved the honor?
Throw the steroids debate out the window. Barry Bonds has a job, and so does Mark McGwire. This isn’t the baseball Hall of Fame, this is the Yankees. Pettitte admitted it, made his mistake and — we assume — never did it again. It was the era in which he played, and you either accept everyone was part of it, or you live in a world where unicorns brings you fluffy cakes of happy clouds to eat for breakfast each morning.
His career numbers are that of a fringe Hall of Fame argument player. 256 career wins and 2,448 strikeouts aren’t exactly numbers that scream Cooperstown. But again, we are debating Monument Park, not the Hall.
“HEROES REMEBERED, LEGENDS BORN”.
You can see that phrase on billboards outside the Stadium and everywhere inside. If that is truly the Yankees mantra, then Pettitte deserves his number in Monument Park.
What is the most important thing to Yankees fans? Is it how many All Star appearances the player makes? Is it how many MVP Awards he earns? Clearly not. It’s how many championships the team wins. And Andy Pettitte was a large part of winning FIVE titles, and his performances in October were legendary.
His 1996 performance will be remembered forever. It’s considered one of the greatest pitching duels in post season history and the key that started the engine of a Yankees run that no one saw coming. People will say he earned those 19 post season wins simply because the Yankees were always there in October. That is partially true, but he could have easily lost some of those games.
And it wasn’t simply 19 wins. It was often the most important wins in the series. Pettitte pitched and won the clinching game in all three series in 2009, so the winning pitcher in the most recent Yankees title was: Andy Pettitte.
I’m not going to sit here and argue whether or not Pettitte is a Hall of Famer, because I don’t think he is. I’m not going to argue with you about whether or not the Yankees retire to many numbers, because they do. But do I think Pettitte deserves to be recognized by his organization and fans for a career that he was a star for? Absolutely.