When Andy Pettitte's name hits the ballot for the Hall of Fame in five years, the Baseball Writers of America Association (BBWAA) will have a very difficult decision on their hands. His candidacy touches on so much of what has happened in the last 20 years in baseball.
The case for Pettitte is built on one simple premise: He has been one of baseball's biggest winners over his 16-year career. We are talking about five World Series titles in eight trips. We are talking about a career winning percentage of 63 percent and a playoff winning percentage of 65 percent.
Pettitte retires as the winningest pitcher in postseason history (19 wins). During the period from 1995 to 2009, no major league pitcher accumulated more victories. His 148 wins from 2000 to 2009 were the most in the decade. Pettitte also possessed one of the best pick-off moves in the history of the game.
Pettitte's defining season was his sophomore campaign. In 1996, he lead the league in wins (21) was third in win-loss percentage (.724) and was eighth in the AL in ERA (3.87). He made his first All-Star team and finished second in the AL Cy Young.
His legacy as a winner was born, however, in the World Series. Game 6 of the World Series was the defining win of the recent Yankee dynasty and the signature victory of his career. Quite simply, the Yankees do not win three titles in four years without Andy Pettitte's 1-0 victory of future Hall of Famer John Smoltz.
His consistency can be measured by his 2009 performance. He finished with 14 wins against eight losses, with ERA and WHIP near career norms. More importantly, he was the second starting pitcher in history to win three series-clinching games (ALDS, ALCS and World Series) in the same postseason. In addition, Pettitte won the game where the Yankees clinched the division.
There are many who would dispute his Hall of Fame candidacy. I can see the arguments:
Human Growth Hormone
To those in the BBWAA who would dismiss his candidacy based on his admittance of HGH use, you are all hypocrites. The BBWAA is just as culpable in turning a blind eye towards the Steroid Era.
You cannot, on the one hand, wax poetic about how Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire's home run chase brought the fans back to baseball after the strike and then take the moral high road and point to them as all that is wrong with the sport. Put them in the Hall of Fame and let their plaques explain the context of the day. It will be their Scarlet Letter.
Pettitte falls well short of the 300-win plateau that would bring "automatic" enshrinement. He is light on All-Star and Cy Young finishes. His ERA and WHIP would be near the bottom of pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
The flip side to the argument is that he won when it mattered. He's got five World Series rings in eight tries (mirroring his career winning percentage). He's pitched nearly two full seasons in the playoffs and is the career playoff starts leader and second in World Series starts.
The Greatness Test
Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com posted an interesting article articulating how Pettitte falls short.
In response to Matthew's article, I argue that Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy will only grow as time goes by. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte are the Core Four.
As distance grows on this recent Yankee dynasty, perspective will change on how instrumental Pettitte (and Posada) were to the Yankees' championships.