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Andy Pettitte's legacy: that of a teammate

Updated: February 4, 2011, 9:35 AM ET
By Buster Olney

Andy Pettitte was so sick that he was under orders to stay home, as the Astros started Game 4 of the Division Series against the Braves in 2005. The Astros' thinking was that if the series extended to a Game 5, Pettitte would get the ball, and they wanted to give him as much of a chance to rest as possible.

Being away from his teammates could not have been a comfortable feeling for Pettitte. The left-hander was a consistently good pitcher in his career, which ends today, but above all, he was always known as a great teammate, someone who cared about those in his clubhouse and felt a strong sense of responsibility to others.

Game 4 played out much differently than anyone expected, carrying into the 11th inning, then the 12th. And as Jim Hickey, the Astros' pitching coach, stood in a corner of the dugout, a clubhouse attendant approached him. "Andy wants to talk to you," the attendant told Hickey.

"He's not even here," Hickey replied.

"No, he's on the phone," the attendant explained.

So Hickey went back into the clubhouse and sure enough, Pettitte was on the line, asking about what the plan was if the game continued. Dan Wheeler would take the ball next and then Roger Clemens will follow, Hickey told him. Hickey encouraged Pettitte to stay in bed, to rest.

But Pettitte assured Hickey that his condition was improving. "I'm feeling a little bit better," Pettitte said. "I can stand."

When Pettitte spoke like this, Hickey said, it was genuine; it was sincere. Some guys might just say it to sound tough, Hickey said, but not Pettitte.

Game 4 continued into the 13th inning, the 14th, and as planned, Clemens was called on for the 16th inning. That was about the time that the same clubhouse attendant again found Hickey in the corner of the dugout.

"Andy wants to talk with you," the attendant said.

"No," Hickey replied. "Tell him we're fine."

"He's here," the attendant said.

Hickey retreated into the clubhouse and sure enough, there was Pettitte sitting in the whirlpool, which was the first step in the routine the left-hander used to prepare to pitch. "I need another 10 to 15 minutes in the pool," Pettitte told Hickey, "and then I'm good to go."

He pitched a lot of the 2004 season with a tear in his flexor mass, an injury that reduced his fastball velocity to 81 to 82 mph, but he kept taking the ball for as long as possible because of that sense of obligation he felt toward teammates, Hickey thought.

Carl Pavano was constantly injured throughout his tenure with the Yankees, and although all of that was well documented with the team's doctors and trainers, some of Pavano's teammates took shots at him anonymously in the newspaper. Pettitte, on the other hand, befriended Pavano. He was a good friend to a lot of the players who either dealt with personal problems, like Darryl Strawberry, or those teammates were not the most popular with other players, like Chad Curtis. He did not judge other people, a longtime teammate said on Thursday; he tried to help them.

After Pettitte's name appeared in the Mitchell report, the pitcher quickly acknowledged his past use of performance-enhancing drugs. He would not lie.

Said one teammate, "Some of the guys who took that stuff did it because they wanted to be the greatest, maybe because of the money involved. But with Andy, I have no doubt he did it because he felt he could be better for teammates."

When Pettitte agreed to a contract for one year, 2007, plus a player option, he told Yankees general manager Brian Cashman at that time that if he didn't want to pitch in 2008, he would walk away from the last year of the deal -- as Gil Meche recently did. And at the time, Cashman believed him, knowing Pettitte as he did, knowing how sincere he was.

Pettitte did not like throwing at opposing hitters on purpose, in situations that dictated retaliation; very early in the 1998 season, a team meeting was called by hitters after Pettitte had failed to drill an opponent after some of the core Yankees had been hit, and some of the Yankees' relievers felt that too often they had to clean up after Pettitte, and throw at hitters because Pettitte would not.

Late in the 2001 season, in the week after 9/11, Pettitte pitched the third game. It was an emotional time and in the first inning, Kip Wells of the White Sox hit Bernie Williams in the head. Williams writhed on the ground, and initially it looked like he was seriously injured. In the bottom of the first inning, Pettitte smoked Magglio Ordonez in the hip with a fastball -- a clear case of retaliation.

I was covering the Yankees for the New York Times, and after the game, I approached Pettitte and explained that I needed to ask him whether he had thrown at Ordonez on purpose. Having covered Roger Clemens and Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton, I was accustomed to the standard denials -- "The ball got away, I was just trying to pitch inside," etc. -- and expected the same from Pettitte.

But instead, Andy kept looking down. "I don't want to talk about that," he said.

He would not lie.

For years to come, Pettitte's merits as a Hall of Fame candidate will be discussed and debated. But among those he played with, he will be remembered as much for the way that he regarded them, for the type of person he is.

"I think there's no chance he comes back in the middle of the year," said one longtime teammate on Thursday, "because if [the Yankees] came up a game or two short, that will eat him up inside that he wasn't with the team at the beginning of the season. That would just kill him."

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Andy Pettitte was a gamer, Tyler Kepner writes. Game 5 in the 1996 World Series brought out the best in Pettitte, Ken Plutnicki writes.

The Yankees released some comments from some of his former teammates.

Mariano Rivera: "Andy was a great teammate and a wonderful guy. He was a fighter and all about winning, and he was respected by every person in the clubhouse."

Jorge Posada: "I'm really sad that Andy is going to retire. He was so much more than a teammate to me -- he was one of my closest friends. I admire everything that he has accomplished as a Yankee, but Andy was someone who always put the team first. I'm going to miss him deeply."

Tino Martinez: "Since I've been retired, I'm always asked, 'Who would you have pitch a World Series Game 7?' And I always say, 'Andy Pettitte.' When people ask why, I tell them it was because he was so prepared for every start. When the time comes for a big game, you want a guy who's going to give you seven strong innings. And that's what he did time and time again. Andy was one of my favorite teammates in my entire career, and he is a great person off the field. In the clubhouse, he cared about the team winning, and he wasn't interested in his individual stats. No matter how he was feeling he went out there every five days and gave us a chance to win."

Next moves?


What the Yankees will do now, in all likelihood, is wait, and hope that A.J. Burnett rebounds from his awful 2010 performance. They could probably pick up the phone and make a deal for Joe Blanton, if they were willing to take a lot or all of the $17 million owed to him for the next two seasons, or they could sign Kevin Millwood -- although the right-hander is looking for a deal of $4 million to $5 million, according to sources.


For more on what the Yankees might do -- plus moves, deals, decisions and more -- you need to be an ESPN Insider.

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