Cooperstown

Andy Pettitte never earned a Cy Young Award.

He never pitched a no-hitter, nailed triple digits on a radar gun or secured a $100 million contract. But over the course of his stellar career, Pettitte did one thing better than just about anybody else — win, and he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. 

Pettitte was the ultimate competitor. A 22nd round pick in 1991, the 41-year-old lefty admits he gritted and grinded to make every pitch, retire every hitter and compete in every start. Nothing came easily for him, but now 18 seasons and 256 wins after his MLB debut, Pettitte retires as perhaps the greatest starting pitcher to ever don the Yankee pinstripes.

The lefty’s regular season accomplishments alone should be enough to garner a plaque in Cooperstown. He finishes his career as just the 26th pitcher to post a career record at least 100 games above .500. Of the first 25 to do so, 18 already hold a spot in the Hall of Fame, and five others await enshrinement once they become eligible in the next few seasons.

Pettitte’s 256 wins place him 11th all-time among left-handers and are more than that of 32 current Hall of Fame pitchers. Additionally, Pettitte remains the only player in MLB history to pitch at least 15 seasons without a losing record. His complete game gem in the final start of his career Saturday against Houston pushed his record total to 18 seasons.

His career 3.85 ERA is the biggest knock against Pettitte’s numbers, but it should not be ignored that he pitched through the heart of the steroid era, when batters and, non-coincidentally, home run totals seemed to get bigger by the season. His 117 adjusted ERA, which considers home ballpark and time period, figures to be a fairer indication of his success, and it puts him in line with current Hall of Famers Burt Blyleven, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins.

Simply put, all of this means that Pettitte fits in as one of the best pitchers of his generation, but it’s his postseason achievements that cement him in baseball lore.

Pettitte won five World Series and eight pennants with the Yankees and Astros. His 19 postseason wins are the most all-time and are more than that of eight MLB franchises.

Additionally, Pettitte tops the list for innings pitched in the postseason, where he posted a 3.81 ERA against baseball’s best teams each year. In 2009, he became the first pitcher to ever start and win the clinching game in each round of the playoffs en route to the Yankees’ 27th World Series title.

The case can be made that Pettitte’s postseason numbers benefit greatly from playing 15 seasons with Yankees teams that contended annually. The same case can be made that those Yankees teams suffer without Pettitte in the rotation, and they likely failed to capture five World Series titles between 1996 and 2009 without their postseason ace.

Pettitte’s link to HGH remains unshakable, but it’s worthwhile to clarify that his usage — under a trainer’s recommendation to recover from an elbow injury — came in 2002, three years before the substance became banned by baseball. While some voters still figure to hold this against him, a number of studies failed to find any ways that HGH could enhance the athletic prowess of an athlete. Some even believe HGH could be a lower risk alternative to surgery, and it’s not impossible that the hormone will be legalized by MLB by the time Pettitte is eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Pettitte never dominated a game or overmatched a hitter the way Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson did, but his accomplishments are undeniable. His remarkable consistency and prowess for winning the big game helped lead the Yankees to five World Series championships, and he deserves a spot in Cooperstown. 

 

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. His career numbers and impact on the game earned him an induction into Cooperstown the first time he was on the ballot. In 1997, 50 years after Robinson changed baseball forever, Major League Baseball retired his number 42 throughout the entire league.

There were 14 players currently wearing 42 when MLB decided to honor Robinson by retiring his number, allowing them to wear it through the end of their career.
In 2013, only one of those 14 are still wearing number 42 on the baseball diamond, Mariano Rivera.

Rivera was signed out of Panama City, Panama by the New York Yankees on February 17,1990 for $3,000. When the Yankees flew him to the states to get started on his professional career, Rivera had never been on an airplane, spoke no English, and by his own account, wasn’t even a pitcher.

He made his major league debut in a start against the Angels on May 23, 1995, giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 10-0 Yankees loss. A few weeks later, he was sent right back tot he minors.
Rivera was recalled by the Yankees later that June and would go on to make six more starts that year. His first relief appearance came on August 1, 1995, and no one could have foreseen the greatness that was about to proceed for the next 19 years.

Led by his infamous cutter, Mariano Rivera would start his ascent in the Yankee bullpen, garnering Cy Young votes as the Yankee set-up man in 1996 and finally claiming the closer job in 1997. As the saying goes, the rest was history.

With a week left to go in his career, Rivera is the most dominate reliever in a century of baseball. His 652 saves are better than future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman’s by 51. Rollie Fingers had 341 in his 17 years, Dennis Eckersley had 390 in his 24-year career, and Goose Gossage had 310 career saves, and each of those greats are already  in Cooperstown.

Known as the “Sandman” for his entrance song “Enter Sandman” by Metallica that plays through Yankee Stadium when he comes jogging in from the Yankees bullpen to get the final three outs, Rivera has been a transcendent athlete during his time in the Pinstripes.

He is the only player in Major League Baseball to record the final out in four World Series, doing it in 1998, 1999, 2000, and the 2009. Rivera closed out 16 postseason series, and is the only player to be named Most Valuable Player in a World Series (1999), League Championship Series (2003), and All Star game (2013). Rivera set the standard for closer efficiency in his role at the back of the Yankees bullpen, essentially doing it all with one devastating pitch.

The Yankees are arguably the most polarizing franchise in American sports, but one thing nearly everyone can agree on is a mutual infatuation with Rivera, who did it with class and a smile the entire time.

If Robinson hadn’t done what he did way back in 1947, there is a chance that the greatness of Rivera wouldn’t be a tale that we tell our children for decades to come. Rivera will be the last player to ever wear number 42 for a Major League Baseball team, and I’m sure Robinson couldn’t be more proud, smiling down on his number for the last time in this closing week of 2013.

Rivera may not have impacted the game in the same fashion as Robinson, but his presence will surely never be forgotten, and baseball will miss him. There isn’t a better player, or man, to close the book on number 42 for the last time.