You haven’t considered that question, have you?
I don’t think it’s anywhere near the 50 most pressing issues of the spring, but it started formulating for me last fall as the veteran Yankees’ lefty cut such an unlikely swath through the post-season. And while the case for a Cooperstown spot for Pettitte is hardly closed, but it is surprisingly compelling.
Comparing across eras is often a dangerous thing, but it does offer a little perspective. And barring a breakdown, at some point in the season ahead Pettitte is going to win his seventh game and pull up into a tie on the all-time victories list with none other than Whitey Ford.
Ford ended what amounted to a 16-year career with a 236-106 record, for a phenomenal winning percentage of .690. Right now Pettitte is at 229-135, which is an impressive .629 (another Yankee great, Herb Pennock, is in Cooperstown with 241 wins and a .598 percentage, and Hal Newhouser of the Tigers is there at 207 with a .579).
A numbers box follows, just to get to the essence of the thing (the asterisk indicates the numbers have been adjusted to cut out seasons that are just cameos).
Ford Pettitte Pennock
Seasons 16* 15 20*
Wins 236 229 241
Losses 106 135 162
Percentage .690 .629 .598
ERA 2.75 3.91 3.60
K 1956 2150 1227
W 1086 921 916
20 Win Yrs 2 2 2
World Series 10-8 5-4 5-0
I’m fascinated by the World Series marks. Pennock made his bones in the post-season, and Ford, from his rookie year of 1950 onwards, became legendary in them. And here’s Pettitte with as many World Series wins as Pennock, and the same post-season percentage as Ford.
I do not go in for lumping all post-season statistics into one number – it is unfair to pitchers pre-1995 and especially pre-1969. Neither should it be ignored that Pettitte is now 13-5 in division and league series. More over, with his triple-play from last fall he has now pitched the decisive game of a playoff series or a World Series an astonishing nine times, and is a tidy 6-1 in such games, with his team having won both of his personal no-decisions, and the one loss being Game Six of the 2003 World Series in which he surrendered exactly one earned run in seven innings. It gets a little less impressive if you include his human torch act in Game Six of the 2001 Series which could have won it for the Yankees – but still, that’s 6-2 in ten potential deciders.
I find Ford was asked to pitch the wrapper three times. He won the finale of the sweep of the Phillies in 1950, got a no decision in the win in Game Six in 1953, and lost the fourth game as the Dodgers swept New York in 1963. As with everything else concerning the post-season, it was tougher for pitchers to get chances to pitch the decider in the days before the playoffs, but Ford did pitch in eleven Series. Pettitte has pitched in no fewer than 28 post-season series (that percentage of deciders pitched is thus still higher than Ford’s).
To this day I think Pettitte deserved the 1996 Cy Young Award, if only for the fact that he went 13-3 after New York losses that season. One wonders if his strong Hall of Fame credentials would be a little more prominently discussed if he’d taken the trophy. If you’d like to be further befuddled by stats and Cooperstown and lefty pitchers, consider one more set: 239-157 (.604), a cumulative post-season mark of 10-5 and a 2-1 record in four deciders. That is David Wells.
YOUR SCORECARD WON’T HELP YOU NOW, MY FRIENDS
I was delighted to settle down, between hospital visits tonight, with MLB Net’s telecast of the Dodgers and White Sox from Arizona, and not merely for the intriguing return of Eric Gagne. Dodgers’ announcer Charley Steiner was my second boss in broadcasting – he hired me 30 years ago last December to jump from UPI Radio to his operation at RKO Radio and from there I was poised to leap into television with CNN (yes, this was before they invented color tv). And I know Charley’s colleague Rick Monday even longer, having interviewed him as far in the past as the 1977 World Series. Rick was later the sports director at Channel 11 in Los Angeles while I held the same post at Channels 5 and 2.
This monstrosity at the left is included because my friends Charley and Rick were victims of one of the standard media nightmares of the spring. In the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox sent number 83 out to play shortstop. And, of course, as can be the case from the first game of the exhibition season through the last, t
here was no number 83 on the White Sox roster. Managers, especially in split-squad situations and/or road trips, supplement even the usual mass of 40-man roster guys and non-roster invitees with as many as dozen extra minor leaguers on a one-game basis, whose identities are usually written down on the shirt cuff of the visiting Media Relations guy. Anyone in the press box is thus left as helpless as in high school, when whoever kept your scorecard had to exchange rosters with whoever kept theirs (I once had a hockey game in which the rival team wore several years’ worth of uniforms and thus had multiple players wearing the same numbers – they had at least three guys wearing number “5” and tried to fix this by stitching in a little “A” or “B” atop the number).
Anyway, 83 was eventually unmasked as minor leaguer Eduardo Escobar and Rick and Charley moved giddily on to the further disturbing truth that Mr. Escobar was wearing an expandable cap, the surest sign of minor league serfdom. Steiner assured his audience that having been the first pick in the first-ever amateur draft in 1965, Monday suffered no such degradations, whereupon Monday insisted that in his first spring training with the then-Kansas City A’s in 1966, he had been insulted in no less an astonishing way than being assigned uniform number 104.
As they used to say on Letterman, “#104 Rick Monday” is a bit of writer’s embellishment. Conceivably in some instructional camp after they anointed him the first-ever draftee, the A’s made him wear such garb, but it wasn’t in spring training.
It is kind of marvelous, though, that as late as 1966, number 45 was still the kind of number you gave to a non-roster second-year pro who wasn’t going to make your team. By the time Monday reached the bigs in the fall of ’66 he was wearing 28, and then moved to 7 the following year.
And the White Sox, by the way, later debuted an outfielder named Justin Greene and a pitcher named Justin Cassel (brother of quarterback Matt and pitcher Jack). Both Justins were wearing number 86.