Commentary

Pettitte deals with past, making better future possible

Updated: February 18, 2008, 8:22 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

It's time to move forward.

You hear that a lot these days. From Sen. George Mitchell when he delivered his State of the Syringe address more than two months ago. From Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and Cubs manager Lou Piniella less than a week ago. From Andy Pettitte on Monday.

Everybody wants to hit the gas pedal on the steroids era and not even bother to look in the rearview mirror.

"I think you learn from the past, but you just can't keep revisiting the past," Piniella told reporters. "I don't know who's done what. But I do know the quicker that this problem gets cleaned up and rectified, the better for everybody."

He's right, but he's also wrong. It's true: The quicker baseball resolves the performance-enhancing drugs issue, the better for the owners, the players, the advertisers, the networks, the record books and, somewhere down the list, the actual working stiffs who buy all those tickets.

But before you can move forward, you have to reconcile the past. The past defines the future, and as much as everyone wants to get to the business of sliders, sunflower seeds and Santana, there's still this little matter of accountability.

Sorry, but baseball owes its fans an explanation, an apology and some patience. Just because the firm of Mitchell, Torre and Piniella is ready to turn the page doesn't mean the rest of us are good to go.

The Mitchell report was a start, nothing more. It was more gums than teeth, but at least it prompted a congressional investigation and hearing into the alleged needle legacy of a seven-time Cy Young winner.

Without that investigation (and the subpoena powers it provided and the threat of perjury charges it imposed), we don't get to see Roger Clemens face his accuser, Brian McNamee. We don't get Pettitte's testimony under oath. We don't discover that at least one Clemens -- this one wore a bikini in Central Park -- was injected with human growth hormone.

McNamee, for all his credibility issues, got it right about the Mitchell report. He said it was the first, not the last, chapter of baseball's PED autobiography. The arrival of spring training -- and all the optimism it brings -- doesn't change that essential truth.

McNamee was an accomplice to a baseball crime. He compromised himself and a game. But he had willing partners: Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Mrs. Clemens and, if you believe his story (and I believe the parts that matter), Mr. Clemens, too.

But now that spring training has begun, we're supposed to -- all together now -- move forward? I'd love to. And as soon as we learn whether the greatest pitcher and the greatest hitter of our generation (and maybe of all time) were on the juice, I'll be happy to join Mitchell, Torre, Hendry and Piniella on the MLB promo tour. But until then, I think fans and, say, Henry Aaron deserve some sort of legitimate closure.

Moving forward isn't doing what Washington Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca did this past Saturday. Lo Duca, named repeatedly in the Mitchell report, appeared in front of reporters and issued the Near Beer Lite of apologies. He said he had "come to grips" with "a mistake" he had made. When someone asked what exactly he was apologizing for, Lo Duca said, "Come on, bro. Next question."

[+] EnlargeAndy Pettitte
Robert Browman/Getty ImagesAndy Pettitte faces the media and apologizes for using performance-enhancing drugs.

This is what passes for accountability these days. Come on, bro. Then again, it was better than the verbal mush Milwaukee Brewers reliever Eric Gagne -- another Mitchell report alum -- delivered Monday. I'd summarize it for you, but he didn't say anything of substance. He made Lo Duca look like a statesman.

At least Pettitte made a good-faith effort to explain himself. His hourlong session with reporters at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla., on Monday wasn't completely satisfying (he wouldn't fully address Clemens' claim that Pettitte "misremembers" their conversations about PED use), but the tenor and tone of it felt right, felt, well, honest. You might not have agreed with everything Pettitte said (Uh, Andy, if you illegally took HGH to speed up the healing process of a bum elbow, then, sorry, but you were trying to gain an unfair advantage), but give him credit for facing his demons, as well as the New York media.

Compare and contrast Pettitte's appearance Monday with Clemens' one and only news conference, or even major parts of his recent appearance at a congressional hearing. Pettitte, a self-admitted HGH user and confirmer of key portions of McNamee's allegations against Clemens, sounded like a man at peace with himself.

"I think the truth will set you free, and I think I'm gonna be able to sleep a lot better at night once this all gets by," he said.

Meanwhile, Clemens looks like a man who has battery cables clamped to his toes. He stormed out of his own news conference. He got gaveled silent by a congressional hearing chairman. And Monday his friend and former teammate pulled more thread from the seam of Clemens' "I didn't take HGH" stance.

Pettitte apologized to his team owners, to his teammates and to his fans. It was the least he could do, but he deserves a tiny backslap for making the effort, just as players such as Brian Roberts and Matt Herges have done.

"I hope I answered your question," Pettitte said at one point during his Q&A session with reporters.

That should be the mantra of baseball, its disheveled commissioner, its owners, and its players and their union for the foreseeable future. Transparency is more important than ever.

"I would like to think that the game's getting cleaned up," Pettitte said. "I can tell you one thing: If you're doing anything and you see what I've been put through and what Roger's been put through, I think you'd clean yourself up real quick."

You'd think. But the steroids era still clings to baseball's pant leg like a Boston terrier. You can't just announce it's time to move forward because Opening Day is in six weeks. Convenience isn't a good enough reason.

The Mitchell report inched baseball forward. The congressional hearings shoved it forward. And then there is Pettitte, who did his part to continue the momentum. But we're not there yet. Not even close.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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