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Legacy? Who cares about Andy Pettitte’s legacy?

Mar 16, 2012, 3:35 PM EDT

Texas Rangers v New York Yankees, Game 3 Getty Images

Whenever a once-great player holds on too long or comes back too often, there is talk about his legacy.  Or, shall I say, his legacy.

The italics are important. They denote the magical nature of this magical concept. A concept that is hard to describe. What makes a legacy? Do a man’s accomplishments make it so, or is it something else? Something more?

I’m inclined to say it’s the latter. That a player’s legacy is more a function of the narrative that surrounds his accomplishments than the accomplishments themselves. And that narrative is mostly a media creation.  A player leaving on a high note. A player holding on too long. Those things are a function of the stories we tell about them, not a function of their greatness itself.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just read Jon Morosi’s column about Andy Pettitte’s return and how it could negatively impact his legacy:

Posada didn’t hurt the Yankees last year. In fact, he batted .429 against the Tigers in the American League Division Series. But the story of his season, on and off the field, underscored the difficultly in shepherding a franchise icon into retirement without bruising his psyche.

Pettitte managed to get it right the first time, walking away after two quality starts in the 2010 postseason. Just before retiring, the ol’ lefty burnished his image as the most reliable October starter of his generation.

It’s a nice legacy – quite perfect the way it is. Now he’s taking it out of the display case. He must be careful not to drop it.

I understand the value of avoiding an ignominious end — who wants to look foolish? — but I question how much such ignominious ends truly matter to the players in question. And whether they should matter to us at all.

Posada had a couple of bad moments last year. Poor play. That tantrum about where he was in the batting order.  But that stuff vanished pretty quickly after the season ended and the retirement press conference happened. Sure, I remember it because all I do is think about baseball all day, but the vast majority of fans have already banished those thoughts from their memories and when they think about Jorge Posada, they’ll think about the good stuff, not the bad.

And you can bet your bippy that Posada will remember the good stuff too.  Almost all players do.  When I met Willie Mays last week, he was walking around in a Giants cap talking about his exploits from the 50s and 60s, not his last year with the Mets.  Same goes for anyone else. They think about the events and happenings, not some amorphous concept that is their legacy. And even if they do, you can bet that the same healthy egos that allowed them to become superstars create a legacy in their minds that is untarnished.

Back to Pettitte.  He might not pitch well this year. Heck, he could have a total meltdown. He could go 0-8 with a 12.56 ERA, accidentally injure Robinson Cano while covering a bunt and poop his pants on the mound on a muggy August night.  And man, that would suck pretty bad.

But will that erase all of the good stuff he’s done?  Will that make his amazing body of work go away? Will it keep Pettitte from sitting in a rocking chair one day and thinking about how great a pitcher he was?  Of course not. His legacy is already solidified, no matter what he does in 2012. Indeed, it can only really be enhanced if he does something amazing, because most people’s memories are pretty good at pushing out the negativity as the years go on.

Well, maybe not if he actually poops his pants. That may be something he can’t shake, I’ll grant you. But I think you know what I mean.

  1. phukyouk - Mar 16, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    ” Sure, I remember it because all I do is think about baseball all day”

    Come on.. admit it… sometimes you think of nekked ladies… playing baseball maybe.. but in that case its not ALL baseball

    • purnellmeagrejr - Mar 17, 2012 at 5:40 AM

      As a man who loves writing and words, I loved this column. Good job C.C.

  2. slavetothetrafficlight - Mar 16, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    That and a pair of testicles

  3. Roger Moore - Mar 16, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    The core point is that this stuff is, as it were, total inside baseball. Nobody really cares about Mays’s time with the Mets, or Walter Johnson’s lame 1927 season, or that Ozzie Smith couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag his last few seasons. Heck, a lot of people don’t even hold it against Ernie Banks that he was barely above average after he moved away from shortstop. It may help a player’s legacy a bit if he goes out with a bang like Ted Williams or Sandy Koufax, but hanging on too long is such SOP for any player who can that most of the HOF would have a tarnished legacy if that were really the standard.

    • paperlions - Mar 17, 2012 at 10:28 AM

      This.

      A players legacy is NOT what the media chooses it to be…it is ultimately what the FANS remember about his playing days, nothing more, nothing less.

  4. Jeff J. Snider - Mar 16, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    I’m glad you mentioned Willie Mays. He is a perfect example of the B.S. nature of this “legacy” stuff. The dude fell down in the outfield at the end of his career (granted, it’s not as simple as that, but that’s the way people remember it) and yet he is universally regarded as one of the best players of all time. Babe Ruth was lousy in his final partial season with the Braves. Steve Carlton played for five teams in his last three seasons, going 15-29 with a 5.72 ERA (75 ERA+) in those years. Jim Palmer tried to make a comeback AFTER HE WAS ALREADY IN THE HALL OF FAME!

    When a player’s career is really over, people will look back on the whole thing, and that will be the “legacy.” And if Pettitte poops his pants, he’ll have a funny story to tell the grandkids to go along with all the cool ones.

    • phukyouk - Mar 16, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      George Brett agrees.i mean he REALLY agrees

    • hittfamily - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      It would have been cool if Maddux hadn’t gone to San Diego and LA though. His career ERA was under 3 until that. It would have been cool for me, but ultimately, what a guy does when he is over the hill can’t hurt his career or what I remember them as.

      The same argument can, and, should be made, that it shouldn’t help it either. Mediocre, or even bad seasons on the tail end of career do not impact a players legacy. Even if Johnny Damon platoons the next 3 years and squeaks out 3000 hits, it doesn’t make a lick of difference for his “legacy” and HOF credentials.

      • Roger Moore - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:46 PM

        Mediocre, or even bad seasons on the tail end of career do not impact a players legacy.

        Unless, of course, the player holds on through a string of mediocre to bad seasons to set a big record or reach a major statistical milestone, in which case they may help his legacy even though he wasn’t helping his team much during those years.

      • hittfamily - Mar 16, 2012 at 7:18 PM

        Bernie Mac finally got to 3000 hits, but does it really matter if he retired as Mr 2999. Only to lazy statisticians and casual fans.

    • nategearhart - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:19 PM

      “If pooping your pants is cool, then call me Andy Pettitte.”

  5. bigharold - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    “I understand the value of avoiding an ignominious end…”

    There is something to be said about going out on a high note on your own terms. But, it’s OK to go out on your shield, .. breaten into submission by time more than the opposition. It’s a matter of personal preference and if it was me they’d have to tear the uniform off me and get security to lock me out. So Petitte gving iit one more try is OK with me. Unless you are a boxer, there is no shame in holding on too long, .. it’s just another chapter in the legacy.

    When Petite came back from the Astros I wondered if the Yankees were headed down an expensive and, more importantly, unproductive stroll down memory lane. There is even more cause for concern now but this time I’m willing to wait and see. Either way Pettitte would have to actually poop his pants to do any harm to his legacy, .. especially with Yankee fans.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:15 PM

      It’s strange, but when most people say, “it’d be much better for the player if they left a year early instead of a year late,” what they really seem to be saying is, “it’d be much better for me and my precious memories if the player retired a year early. This way I don’t y to remember things like Mays falling down, or Posada’s tantrum past year, etc.

      • Roger Moore - Mar 16, 2012 at 9:10 PM

        And they’re wrong about their own memories. We forget about great players’ decline stage as soon as they retire, and remember their great moments instead. When I think about Cal Ripken, I remember 2131 a lot more than him hitting .239 his final season. I remember Tony Gwynn’s batting titles a lot more than his struggle to stay healthy in his final seasons. Why should Andy Pettite be any different?

  6. mel47 - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    I agree that in the long run we do forget and forgive the ugly endings. But it sure is sad when we see it happening. Better to go out like Teddy Ballgame.

  7. cackalackyank - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    To hear some people talk on some other posts about this, Pettitte’s legacy (sorry do not know how to use italics on here) is that he used some peds while he was recovering from his injury while with the Astros. I will continue to maintain his “legacy” is as a guy who proved he could be cool and deliver under the highest level of pressure his sport produces. Even if he does arrive on the major League roster and then has a total “melt down”, his value to some of the young guys coming along will be immeasureable. Showing any young lefty that pick off move comes to mind for starters. Consistency and the ability perform under pressure are things worth being around,too.

  8. diamondmo33 - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    as far as I’m concerned his”legacy” was tainted when he admitted he was dirty.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:16 PM

      Is it lonely up there on your pedestal looking down your nose at the rest of us?

      • hittfamily - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:21 PM

        I have never cheated my coworkers. Have you?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:01 PM

        First, how is taking a substance to try and get back on the field faster harming anyone? Yes he might have broke a federal law, but not a baseball one. So how is it cheating? Unless you think guys like LaRussa “cheated” when get busted for dui.

        As for you yourself, you’ve never taken a 35 minute lunch instead of 30, never shown up ten minutes late to work, called out sick when you weren’t, etc?

      • hittfamily - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:54 PM

        1) A minor leauger replaces him on the roster when he is on the DL. When he injects liquid gold into his body, that minor leaguer goes back to the minors, forfeiting his major league paycheck.

        2) A player is judged against his peers. If his peers are better than him because they are cheating, the clean player is judged to be not as good. Inferior players receive inferior paychecks, no matter what team they are on.

        3) Players are rewarded financially for postseason berths. If you are trying to make the post season as a clean player, and someone on another team is cheating, you are being cheated.

        “As for you yourself, you’ve never taken a 35 minute lunch instead of 30, never shown up ten minutes late to work, called out sick when you weren’t, etc?”

        I have never stolen money from my coworkers, or competitors. Pettitte did.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:30 PM

        1 – Cortisone allows players to play through pain. In this scenario is taking cortisone cheating? It has the same affect on this hypothetical MiLB player as well.

        2 – Show me two players who were exactly the same, but one became better because of “cheating”. Or is it possible that Player A was already better than Player B, and the “cheating” further enhanced it?

        3 – Baseball isn’t a zero sum game, so he didn’t steal money from those players. How you can make this leap in logic is beyond me.

      • hittfamily - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:57 PM

        Are you really this dense. Cortisone is equal to HGH? One numbs pain. The other promotes muscle and cell growth. One has been clinically tested. One has not, and it’s long term effects are unknown. Andy Pettitte was willing to jeopardize his health with illegal, untested substances that promote muscle growth. Most people aren’t, which is why it is illegal. Andy Pettitte took a shortcut that his peers aren’t willing to take. I don’t care if 90% of players did it or not, they forced the clean players to play with a disadvantage. Disadvantages translate to worse stats. Worse stats translate to less value. Less value translates to smaller paychecks.

        Andy upped the curve, and by cheating to up the curve, he cheated the clean players out of higher paychecks.

      • paperlions - Mar 17, 2012 at 10:36 AM

        hittfamily, if you don’t know that cortisone has real and positive effects on a players ability to perform but that HGH has no measurable affects on ability, then you need to do some reading.

        HGH may be called a performance enhancer by the media, but those that study it can find no such effect (especially in sports made up of highly derived skills, like baseball). In contrast, the performance enhancing benefits of cortisone are well documented and understood.

        You appear to be hung up on whether something was legally obtained or used (with legality being determined arbitrarily rather than based on merit) instead of whether or not something actually has an effect.

  9. shaggylocks - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    If you ask me, Babe Ruth really blew his legacy when he decided to play out his age 40 season with the Boston Braves. I could never look at his career the same way again. When people were wringing their hands as Hank Aaron was closing in on his home run record, I would say, “Who cares? Ruth played for the Boston Braves!” and everyone else would say, “Oh yeah, you’re right, his legacy is ruined already anyway!” So be careful, Andy, that’s all I’m saying.

  10. ikoiko72 - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Legacy: Cheated. Cheated and stole money from Baseball fans. Cheated.

  11. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    If Andy wants to go back out there, clearly he isn’t worried about some glass-cased “legacy”, and nor should we. I say best of luck in 2012, Andy!

    And all this crap about cheating, HGH, whatever…are we going to sit here and say the same about all the guys that did greenies, amphetamines, pine tar and spit? I understand the moral argument about MLB is never going away but throwing curveballs around the rules themselves has always been a part of the game whether we choose to notice it or not, so putting our noses up and calling him a cheater is saying the same about thousands of other former players for the past several generations.

    • hittfamily - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:19 PM

      If there is 1 minor leaguer who never made the Show because his spot was filled by a cheater, then yes, I will continue to “put my nose up” and call a cheater a cheater.

      • paperlions - Mar 17, 2012 at 10:40 AM

        Instead of putting your nose up, put it in a book and educate yourself on the topic you appear to feel so passionately about. That might keep you from saying dumb shit like this.

        First, HGH has no effect on performance that could make one a better pitcher. Indeed, it doesn’t even speed healing in otherwise healthy individiuals.

        Second, there is no more evidence that Pettite has cheated in the last several years than for any other major or minor leaguer. Anything he did 5+ years ago will not affect his ability to out compete anyone else.

  12. aceshigh11 - Mar 16, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    Yeah, but…

    …on the other hand, look at someone like Bret Favre. Maybe we’re all still too close to the end of his career, but I have to think that, even in 5 or 10 years, the fact that he stuck around WAY too long is going to be part of his legacy, and it does feel like it’s going to diminish what he accomplished in GB.

    Obviously this doesn’t apply to Pettitte, but I think it’s a fairly decent example of a legacy being tarnished by sticking around too long, and being fairly graceless in doing so.

    • jimbo1949 - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:27 PM

      Bret Favre tarnished his legacy off the field with a pecker pic. Sexual harassment is neanderthal behavior.

      • aceshigh11 - Mar 17, 2012 at 12:40 AM

        Well, yeah…no doubt that was a big part of it, but that aside, he was annoying a shit-ton of NFL fans with his neediness and desire to cling on well past his sell-by date.

        Had he retired after the NFC championship game with the Vikings in 2009-2010, he could have gone off into the sunset a hero. All of the “will he or won’t he” talk got so tiresome for everyone.

        Again, I’m just using this as an example of how someone can, in fact, tarnish a stellar legacy by not knowing how to quit or bow out gracefully. I’m almost positive that this won’t end up applying to Andy.

  13. spindervish - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    This argument is reasonable and sober and seems to want to remove the artifice of narrative and visceral response from the equation in favor of a focus on the facts. I’m generally very much in favor of this kind of approach.

    That said, there’s undeniably a huge emotional component to fandom, and I don’t think that can be dismissed entirely, even if these sorts of concerns about “legacy” are entirely selfish on the part of the fan.

    Basically what I’m saying is that the idea of Michael Jordan in a Wizards jersey straight kills me, even today.

  14. stabonerichard - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    Andy had a fine career. A very consistent, durable pitcher who contributed to a number of postseason (and championship) teams. And while Andy was certainly a key cog in the Yankee machine, he was obviously quite fortunate–like Jetes, Mo and Jorgie–to spend the bulk of his career in pinstripes, when the Yanks lapped the rest of the league in spending and were otherwise able to reach the postseason year after year.

    But when it comes to legacy, without pinstripes it would be sort of a silly discussion. If Pettitte had spent his career with virtually any other organization he’d be Chuck Finley. Again, a damn fine pitcher, but someone that nobody would tossing around in fringe Hall of Fame conversation, or worrying about how making a late comeback would affect his *legacy*.

    All of which makes me take exception with Craig’s opening sentence… is a guy who racked up a lone top-3 Cy Young finish in 16 full seasons, a great player? Only by way of the pinstripes.

    • redbirdsin7 - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:52 PM

      yes. take away the rings (team acheivements) and andy p is no hall of famer. with the rings (he has a lot) he should get in with ease. any career statline he has that jumps out at you is generated by pure longevity and good health. most of them should appear very underwhelming

    • redbirdsin7 - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:54 PM

      p.s. – i love chuck finley

  15. stex52 - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    Agreed. Solid, dependable left-hander with a wicked breaking pitch. Not a HOF’er.

  16. j0esixpack - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    I thought his legacy was turning state’s evidence on Clemens.

    • hittfamily - Mar 17, 2012 at 1:07 AM

      If it isn’t now, it will be in a few months. There are people who tell the truth, because the truth needs to be told. Adversely, there are people who tell the truth to protect themselves. Andy is the latter.

      • paperlions - Mar 17, 2012 at 10:42 AM

        …and then there are people that just spout non-sense because they can’t be bothered to find out what is true and what is not, as they prefer their preconceptions to fact.

  17. acdc363 - Mar 17, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    So glad to have you back Andy!

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