When Yankees fan favorite Andy Pettitte announced this spring that retirement didn't quite suit him as well as he thought it might, there were a variety of opinions on how he would fare after sitting out a whole year. Would he be vintage Andy, just a decent No. 4 or 5 starter, or would he not even make it out of his extended Spring Training?
Turns out he's the same old Pettitte that Yankees fans know and love, perhaps even better. There's almost no doubt that he is the Yankees' second-best starter, and really he's even pitched better than staff ace CC Sabathia thus far. Without Pettitte, the Yankees are probably still in third or fourth place, not fighting for first with the Rays and Orioles.
So, if Pettitte still had this kind of performance in him, you have to wonder what other retired players could still get the job done if they were to attempt a comeback. I'm sure the argument could be made for a lot of different former players, especially those who retired prior to this season, but for this list I'm going to exclude those newly-retired players and focus on players who have already spent at least a full year away from the game.
Technically, Joe Girardi is still a part of the game today. He currently serves as manager of the New York Yankees, a position he has held since 2008. He has led the Yankees to two AL East titles and one AL Wild Card over those four seasons, while also capturing the team's 27th World Series title in 2009.
However, what we tend to forget about Girardi is that before he was managing the Bombers, he was catching their pitchers during the dynasty years in the late '90s. Girardi was never an offensive-minded player, but he was a fantastic defensive catcher and could easily still take his position behind the plate today. Girardi is in excellent shape to this day, and if crisis hit, I bet the Yankees would consider asking their manager to strap on his catcher's gear for one last go around.
Billy Wagner retired after the 2010 season after a long, successful career as a closer for the Astros, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Braves. He accumulated 422 saves over the course of his career, just two shy of John Franco's record 424 for a left-handed pitcher. If he ever felt like pursuing that record, there is no doubt in my mind that he still has the stuff to be a successful major league closer.
Plenty of teams have trouble finding a guy to man the ninth inning and shut down opposing offenses when the pressure is the highest. Wagner could easily find a pursuer if he desired a comeback. Even if he wasn't brought in as a closer, teams are always looking for a good left-handed reliever.
Everyone knows the former Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill retired on top of his game. He left baseball after the 2001 season at the age of 38, and everyone knew he still had at least a couple more seasons left in him.
But he decided to call it a quits, and after a run like the Yankees had in the late '90s, who could blame him. He accomplished all he set out to as a player, and probably a bit more. Batting champion, fjve-time All-Star, five-time World Series champion, what more can a player ask for?
Even now, 11 years later, at the age of 49, I honestly believe O'Neill could don a major league uniform again. Maybe it would need to be as a DH, but if one thing is for sure, it's that this guy can still swing the bat. Just watch his swings at this year's Old Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium. You'll see, they aren't the swings of an old-timer, just the swings of a veteran hitter.
Mike Lowell in his prime was one of the best third basemen in the game. In fact, in the history of baseball, no one has played the actual position better than Lowell, as he holds the highest fielding percentage at third base of all time.
If Lowell was to attempt a comeback, it really wouldn't come as much of a surprise, seeing as he only retired at the end of the 2010 season. He's likely still in playing shape, and knowing that he is no slouch over at third, managers probably wouldn't have any qualms about putting his name into the lineup.
Lowell definitely left the game with something left in the tank, just like his rivalry-mate Pettitte, and if he made a return, he very well could be just as successful.
If Andy Pettitte can still pitch like an ace at 39, the Mike Mussina could still be pitching at 43. When Mussina retired after the 2008 season, he literally retired after one of his best statistical seasons. He went 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 2008, and was one of the only bright spots on a Yankees team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
If Moose could win 20 games as a 39-year-old, there's no reason he couldn't be an above-average No. 4 or 5 starter in someone's rotation this year. Just look over in Colorado, where the 49-year-old Jamie Moyer is still getting it done. Mussina is a better pitcher than Moyer, so if Moyer can still pitch, so can Mussina.
It's actually too bad Mussina retired when he did, because if he had stuck around for another two seasons, he was sure to eclipse the 300-win mark, especially pitching for a team like the Yankees, which would've punched his ticket to Cooperstown. Now, it might be a bit of a stretch, with only 270 wins to his name.
There's still time, Moose, come get those last 30 wins.