November 2009

Pettitte starting to look like Hall of Fame candidate

As we entered the 2009 baseball season I never thought I’d mention the words Andy Pettitte and Hall of Fame in the same sentence. But the Yankee left-hander’s 4-0 performance in the postseason and his 2-0 exclamation point in the World Series has me starting to think in those terms.

Pettitte, now 37, hasn’t determined whether he’s coming back next season.

“I’m not sure,” Pettitte said in the din of the clubhouse celebration after the Yanks clinched their 27th World Series title by vanquishing the Phillies. “I’ll need to get home
and talk to my family. I’ll need to talk to the Yankees and find out
where they’re at, and then I can probably start trying to figure out
what I’d like to do.”

Even if he doesn’t come back, his resume after 15 seasons has to warrant some serious HOF consideration. Pettitte already has a 229-135 record for a .629 regular season-winning percentage. His 18 postseason wins — five of them in the World Series — are the most in Major League history. John Smoltz, who had 15 postseason wins for the Atlanta Braves, only recorded two of them in the Fall Classic. With 213 wins and 154 saves, Smoltz is considered a very formidable Hall of Fame candidate, although his Braves won the World Series only once in five chances.

Pettitte also compares favorably to Yankee Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, another left-hander who was elected with a record of 236-106 and a .690 winning percentage in 17 regular seasons. The man also nicknamed “Chairman of the Board” had a record 10 victories in 11 World Series. Ford played in an era when the pennant winners in each league went directly to the World Series. There were no qualifying rounds. Ford’s Yankees won six of them.

Pettitte has now played in the World Series eight times, seven with the Yankees and one with the Astros. He’s won five, all with the Yankees. That’s no mean feat, considering the fact that in his era a team must get through three grueling rounds of playoffs to be crowned champions. This year, he won the clincher in each round against the Twins, Angels and Phillies.

Ford, 10-8, in the World Series, only started 22 postseason games. Pettitte has started 40 and he’s 18-9. Sandy Koufax, one of the premier left-handers in baseball history, won 165 games in 12 seasons with the Dodgers and added four wins in eight World Series appearances, seven of them starts. Koufax is the rare exception to the rule: a pitcher who was elected to the Hall based on six great seasons, the last six of his injury-prone career.

As a Hall-of-Fame voter, it’s a no-brainer that Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be first ballot electees to the Hall of Fame. Barring injury, Jeter will become the first Yankee with 3,000 hits and he’s already the leading shortstop all-time in that category.  Rivera is second behind Trevor Hoffman with 526 regular-season saves. But he’s light years ahead of Hoffman in both postseason statistics and opportunities, with eight wins, 39 saves and a 0.74 ERA. Two of those wins and 11 of those saves have come in the World Series.

Of course, any discussion of Pettitte for the Hall will have to include consideration of his admitted use of human growth hormone (HGH). But Ford scuffed and doctored baseballs with the help of Elston Howard, one of his catchers. So where does a voter draw the line?

Off those great Yankees teams in Ford’s era — 1950-67 — Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are also in the Hall of Fame. From this era, circa 1995-2009, I’m now inclined to consider Pettitte in the same breath as Jeter and Rivera.

 

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