Those who wished to diminish Pettitte's achievements would frequently chime in with something like: "Well, of course he won a lot of postseason games, because he pitched for the Yankees so long." Flip the script. Maybe one of the reasons New York won in the postseason so often was that Pettitte pitched for the club so long. Pettitte's employment by the Bombers cannot be used in any way to reduce the impact of his postseason record.
Pettitte officially called it a career Friday. He's earned a retirement on his own terms, in his own time. He has pitched in the bigs since the mid-1990s, not one of those seasons with a losing record.
He finishes 240-138 with a 3.88 ERA. Is that the stuff of Cooperstown? Is the Hall of Fame five years in his future? Not at first glance, when it took Bert Blyleven, with 287 victories, 14 tries to be elected.
But what could put Pettitte into a separate category in the minds of many voters would be those consistent, persistent postseason performances. His record there speaks of a man unfazed by the most extreme pressure, a pitcher capable of making certain that his level of performance met the size of the occasion at hand. Those 19 postseason victories put Pettitte in his own category and will create a focal point for voters who wish to support his Hall candidacy.
At a news conference Friday at Yankee Stadium, Pettitte was typically modest on this topic.
"I've never considered myself a Hall of Famer," he said. "I guess I've gotten close to having those kinds of credentials or guys wouldn't be talking about it."
If Pettitte stumbled in public, it was in his acknowledged use of human growth hormone, which he said was limited to a one-time occurrence related to recovery from a left elbow injury. He admitted his mistake. He apologized profusely. Everybody moved on. Without spending mega-millions on legal fees and an international public-relations campaign, Pettitte put this issue behind him by conducting himself as a reasonable human being.
And now Pettitte has come to what feels to him like a natural stopping point. He described his renewed offseason workouts on Friday and said that he knew he could once again get his body in the appropriate shape, but added: "My heart's not where it needs to be. I didn't have the hunger, the drive I felt like I needed. I don't know how to explain it, but I knew that it was different."
Pettitte acknowledged that he felt pressure to return to New York, particularly after Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees' contract offer in favor of signing with the Phillies. In the end, though, Pettitte had to do what he believed was right for him, which in this case was retirement.
And that ought to be the theme, at least for a few minutes. Temporarily at least, we can all cease wondering how much of the burden Sergio Mitre can be expected to carry, or whether it is possible for A.J. Burnett to rediscover his pre-2010 form.
In that pause, we can reflect on the remarkably consistent, persistently admirable career that Pettitte has fashioned. Ultimately dependable and reliable, he has been an integral part of five championship teams. There can be careers with more individual honors attached to them, but in a team sport, this is still one of the best legacies that can be left.