Number 46

In 2004 in a fit of pique “someone” and by that I mean George Steinbrenner, decided to give #46 to Donovan Osborne. It was classic George, Pettitte had signed elsewhere and there was no point in acting sentimentally over his number. The number bounced to Darrell May, Alan Embree, Scott Erickson and Aaron Guiel before returning to Pettitte in 2007.

Clearly, that mistake won’t be repeated again. The question is, what will the Yankees do with Pettitte’s number? There will be drumbeats to retire it with people pointing out that Pettitte has the 2nd-most wins in franchise history and won five championships, better numbers than Ron Guidry and his retired #49 put up.

I tackled this issue before in the wake of the LaTroy Hawkins number controversy. In that piece I talked about “great, but not great enough” Yankees and I think Pettitte falls into that category. Yes, he won a lot of ballgames for him, but 203-122 with a 3.98 ERA doesn’t put him in the retired number category in my mind. Throw in the HGH, which I will get to later, and I think Pettitte’s 46 stays in circulation.

But, I think they should honor him with another idea from that article, they should take #46 out of circulation for the next 13 seasons. I wrote then:

How should the Yankees handle the “great, but not great enough” players’ numbers? I would propose pulling the number out of circulation for a time period equal to the time the player was a Yankee. So, Paul O’Neill played nine years in New York and retired after the 2001 season. Therefore, his number should remain out of circulation until after the 2010 season.

By that system, Pettitte’s number would show up again in 2024 which gives us the chance to let history put his career in context and I think that is important. Perhaps over the next 13 seasons the Yankees will develop another homegrown starter, making Pettitte less of an anomaly. (Think about it, over the last 40 years, the Yankees have really developed two good starters- Guidry and Pettitte) Second, they might win a few more titles, making the five Pettitte won seem less important. After all, Lefty Gomez also won five World Series, 189 games for the Yankees and got into the Hall of Fame, but his number 11 is still active. (That’s not a complaint)

We will see what happens.
As for the HGH stuff, I kept asking myself one question during the press conference today, why do we give Pettitte a “pass” on his use, but vilify guys like Palmerio, McGwire, Bonds and Clemens? Now, obviously a HUGE part of it is personality. You really have to be a miserable person to dislike Andy Pettitte. The guy is humble and personable. He always seemed willing to answer any question and it always felt like you could relate to him.

But, he initially lied about his use of HGH, in that aspect how is he different from McGwire? I keep hearing people say that he used HGH because he didn’t want to let the team down, but is that really a justification? It seems to me that we should look at Andy Pettitte as a generally good man who made a big mistake. Minimizing or attempting to justify that mistake doesn’t do any of us any favors.