NEW YORK — Andy Pettitte kept putting off a final decision, until his wife told him in late January that it was time.
“I was starting to get a little irritable,” he said. “And so she basically booted me and said, ‘Go figure this out.’”
So he drove four hours from his home in Deer Park, Texas, to his ranch near the Mexican border.
“I’m going to play,” he remembered thinking. “The fans, the Yankees need me to play. I’m going to play. My wife supports it. My kids support it.”
And then he thought some more.
“When I digged deep down in and I did some soul-searching — I don’t even know how to explain,” he said. “It wasn’t there. It wasn’t there like I wanted it to be there.”
He returned home, then took his family to the ranch, waiting to make sure there was no more wavering. On Tuesday night, he called Brian Cashman to give the general manager the verdict: One of the most accomplished pitching careers in Yankees history was over. Pettitte was retiring after 16 major league seasons, 13 in pinstripes and five of those ending with World Series titles.
With his wife, Laura, sitting by his side in the Yankee Stadium press room, Pettitte spent nearly two hours Friday talking in his Texas twang about the pressure he felt to return, of a “tremendous obligation” he felt after Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees for Philadelphia. Just like the fans, the left-hander knows his retirement leaves New York with a rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, ? & ?
At 38, his hair around the temples is gray and white. His back, elbow and groin ached during the season, but his 11-3 record was sufficient proof he could deal with it.
The fire, however, to compete from April through October had vanished, a realization that grew on him during the two months he spent on the disabled list with a leg injury last summer.
“I didn’t want to come back and be bad,” he said.
Pettitte said he told Cashman on Jan. 9 that he would seriously consider one more season. But as the time neared when he would have to pack for spring training, Pettitte couldn’t bring himself to leave.
He nearly retired after 2008, but he wanted to pitch at new Yankee Stadium.
He almost retired after 2009, but he felt compelled to defend the World Series title.
“I’m ready to go pitch in spring training right now if I had to. My arm feels great. My body feels great. Been working out extremely hard for about the last 3½ weeks, and I know that my body would get to where it needs to be,” he said. “But my heart’s not where it needs to be.”
And what did he mean by that?
“I just feel like that my heart is not fully, completely sold out to do this again, and to do what I feel like I need to do as a player on the New York Yankees,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right for me anymore, didn’t have the hunger, the drive that I felt like I needed.”
Pettitte didn’t completely rule out a 2012 return but said he couldn’t envision that happening. Pettitte recalled Tino Martinez telling him he had played a year too long.
Pettitte’s place in Yankees history is even more prominent than the impressive numbers. A fan favorite, Pettitte’s retirement news conference was televised live. Yankees manager Joe Girardi watched from a front-row seat. Former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams — who hasn’t played since 2006 but still hasn’t announced his retirement — entered about 20 minutes in and took a second-row seat.
“Always strolling in a little late,” Pettitte said with a smile.
He finished with a 240-138 record and 3.88 ERA. He set a major league record for postseason wins, going 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA. He was a three-time All-Star.
“I’ve never considered myself a Hall of Famer. I feel honored that people are talking about it, never dreamed that I would be able to be talked about,” he said.
While he can’t place himself in the ranks of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, half of his Core Four teammates, there’s pride that he even would be considered for Cooperstown.
“I guess I’ve got to be close to having those credentials or you guys wouldn’t be talking about it as much as they do,” Pettitte added.
Pettitte said the upcoming trial of former teammate Roger Clemens played no part in his decision. Clemens has been indicted on charges he lied to a congressional committee when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Pettitte admitted using human growth hormone and gave Congress a statement saying Clemens told him he had used HGH; Clemens testified Pettitte didn’t remember the conversation correctly.
“That has not had any effect, I mean zero, in my decision,” Pettitte said. “It’s had no impact on my life.”
He’ll watch his kids play baseball instead of having Laura send videos. Josh (16), Jared (12) and Lexy (10) were in favor of one more season, with only Luke (5) against.
“‘Dad, we’re used to you being gone,’” Pettitte said they told him.
Now he’ll get to play dad for four, instead of pitching for millions. He’ll text the Yankees, instead of razzing them in person. He’ll coach his 12-year-old’s team, instead of taking the mound himself.
“The initial settling in, just watching the team do without him will definitely be a huge adjustment,” Laura Pettitte said. “He’s got so much with four kids that’s going to keep him busy, I don’t even know how many games he’ll get to watch.”