Andy Pettitte Returns to the Yankees: Ranking the MLB Pitcher Comebacks

Judd CohenContributor IIIMarch 19, 2012

Andy Pettitte Returns to the Yankees: Ranking the MLB Pitcher Comebacks

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    Andy Pettitte is coming out of retirement to rejoin the Yankees.  Pettitte, who sat out the 2011 season, signed a $2.5 million minor league contract for the 2012 season. 

    Pettitte’s return adds to the list of un-retirements in sports in recent memory, the most famous of which being Brett Favre, Roger Clemens and Michael Jordan.

    A comeback from retirement is a gamble on how the public will remember the end of your career.  Some comebacks make teams wish you never left.  Others make you look like a fool for ever thinking you still had what it takes.

    The best example of the unpredictable nature of this gamble is Michael Jordan.  His return to basketball in 1995 led to three more championships; however his second return in 2001, with the Washington Wizards, forever stained his legacy.

    Comebacks are a tricky thing.  Have a look at which pitchers did it successfully, and which ones failed miserably. 

7) Jim Palmer – 1991

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    Jim Palmer retired from the Baltimore Orioles in 1984 after a storied career.  After five years out of baseball, he was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot he was eligible for in 1990. 

    Apparently this wasn’t enough for Palmer, and he felt he needed to prove himself further.

    In 1991, Palmer attempted a comeback with the Orioles at 45 years old.  It wasn’t much of a return, however.  Palmer lasted only two spring training innings, giving up two runs on five hits in his lone appearance.

6) David Cone – 2003

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    David Cone retired in 2001 after a one-year stint with the Boston Red Sox.  Cone had an average season for the Sox, going 9-7, following a horrid 4-14 campaign with the rival Yankees in 2000.

    This performance must have given Cone the idea that he still had a little left in the tank, which lead him to try his hand at a comeback with the New York Mets, the team he joined in his second season in the majors. 

    Cone was featured in five games after coming out of retirement in 2003 for the Mets.  Cone went 1-3 with a disastrous 6.50 ERA.

    Cone’s ill-advised comeback was certainly a mistake and ended up tarnishing an otherwise solid career.

5) Andy Pettitte – 2012

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    Pettitte rejoins the Yankees on a minor league deal, looking to join an already overcrowded rotation sometime in May.   

    Pettitte went 11-3, with a 3.28 ERA in 2010, his final season before retirement.  Pettitte’s 2010 season was shortened by a groin injury, which brings up doubts about the health of a pitcher who will be turning 40 during the season. 

    Pettitte’s decision to return to pinstripes should be thought of as selfish.  The Yankees already have six men fighting to join the five-man rotation this season.  After acquiring Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda this offseason to solve their starting rotation problems from last season, they are not in desperate need of an aging pitcher to bring stability to a fragile rotation.

    The big question is why Pettitte retired at all when the Yankees needed him last season to solidify a weak rotation and he was going to come back a year later anyway?

    Nevertheless, Pettitte is back, and will find himself fighting his way up future editions of this list if he can find a way to make it back to the majors, have a positive impact, and most importantly, stay healthy.

4) Dave Stieb – 1998

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    Dave Stieb may be most famous for having no-hit bids broken up with two out and two strikes (!) on consecutive starts in September, 1988. 

    Due to arm problems, Stieb was forced to retire in 1993, after accumulating the second most wins in the 1980’s behind Jack Morris.  Stieb later tried to resurrect his career in 1998 by appearing in 19 games for his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Stieb went 1-2 in three starts, also managing to pick up two saves during his lone season back with the Jays.

3) Roger Clemens – 2007

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    As Suzyn Waldman put it, when Clemens announced his final return from retirement:

    "Roger Clemens is in George's box and Roger is coming back! Oh my goodness gracious of all the dramatic things. Of all the dramatic things I have ever seen. Roger Clemens standing right in Steinbrenner's box is announcing he is back. Roger Clemens is a New York Yankee." 

    Unfortunately, by going 6-6, with a 4.18 ERA, Clemens could not live up to his comeback with the Astros, or the reception he received upon announcing his plans to return to the Bronx. 

    Clemens made one appearance in the playoffs that season, but had to leave after two and a third innings pitched due to an injury. 

2) Jose Rijo – 2001

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    Jose Rijo, who won the 1990 World Series MVP with the Reds, was forced to leave Cincinnati in 1995 as a result of an elbow injury.  After several unsuccessful attempts at a return to the Majors due to more problems with elbow injuries, Rijo was able to make his much desired comeback in 2001.

    Rijo’s arrival back to the big leagues in 2001 was most notable, because it made him the first ever pitcher to play in the major leagues after receiving a Hall of Fame vote. 

    Rijo received one vote for the Hall of Fame on the 2001 writers’ ballot.

    Rijo went 5-4 with a 4.60 ERA, in two years and 44 appearances as a reliever and later as a starter for the Reds, making him the second most durable pitcher on this list.

1) Roger Clemens – 2004

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    The finest un-retirement of any pitcher is Roger Clemens’ first comeback from retirement with the Houston Astros in 2004. 

    Clemens had announced his retirement after the 2003 World Series, in which the Yankees lost to the Marlins in six games.  The comeback irked Yankees fans, not only because of the Texas sized hole he left in the rotation, but how productive he was in his three years in Houston.  Clemens went 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA in his three years as an Astro. 

    Clemens won the CY Young Award in 2004, by going 18-4 and was even the starter for the National League in the All-Star Game. 

    Clemens’ success with the Astros is the type of return that all athletes who renege on a retirement hope for, but very few achieve.

    Clemens was later accused of using steroids, which is likely a factor in his achievements in Houston. 

    By the looks of this list, without the help of performance-enhancing drugs, most pitchers are better off ignoring that itch they feel to get back on the rubber.