Commentary

Pettitte still has some rough days ahead

Originally Published: February 18, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Have we ever seen anything like this?

Have we ever seen a player do what Andy Pettitte did Monday?

Have we ever seen a baseball player, stuck in the muck of a performance-enhancing drugs scandal, sit behind a microphone and explain it all for close to an hour?

Actually tell us what he did? And why he did it? And how it felt? And why he lied about it?

Tell us what a mess it has made of his life? How it alienated him from one of his best friends on earth? How painful it was to tell his kids? How he'd agonized over whether to confess his own father's involvement in this "crime?"

Well, Andy Pettitte did all of that Monday. It doesn't excuse the three occasions he chose to take HGH, knowing it was wrong. It doesn't excuse the denials, the untruths or the half-truths that have come out of his mouth in the months since.

It doesn't mean he gets a free pass out of this abyss for the rest of his life. Or that there won't be many more embarrassing questions to answer. For weeks. For months. For years.

But that doesn't mean this wasn't an extraordinary hour in the life of baseball's interminable performance-enhancing-drugs soap opera.

Andy Pettitte
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonFor almost an hour on Monday at Yankees camp, Andy Pettitte answered questions with candor and sincerity.
This wasn't Jason Giambi or Paul Lo Duca, confessing and/or apologizing for who the heck knew what.

This wasn't Rafael Palmeiro, tossing out conspiracy theories about how those evil poisons mysteriously appeared in his bloodstream.

No, this was a real person, caught red-handed by the proper authorities, who then did what we wish more of these guys would do:

Actually act like a real person. And talk like a real person. And paint a picture, for the world to see, of how an otherwise level-headed human being somehow got sucked into the depths of baseball's magic-syringe culture.

Look, would Pettitte have sat there Monday and said any of this if he hadn't been caught? You don't need a Ph.D. in psychology or criminology to know the answer to that one: No chance. No way.

But how many players before him have been fingered or been outed or tested positive or showed up on the wrong prescription list … and taken a whole different route? Pretty much all of them. Right?

So when Pettitte spoke into those microphones Monday and said he'd taken these drugs out of "stupidity" and "desperation," he seemed as believable as any baseball drug culprit ever has.

When he talked about how he made the torturous decision to tell congressional investigators about how his father injected him in 2004 because "If I didn't bring it up, I couldn't sleep at night," he sounded as genuine as any of these guys has ever sounded.

Oh, I recognize that "genuine" is an arbitrary word. What felt genuine to me might have felt contrived or phony to you. Fine. Then we disagree.

And I recognize that there are people out there who think Pettitte is a "cheater," so we should lock him up in baseball purgatory and bury the key deep down in Brian McNamee's backyard. Fine. You're allowed to think what you think.

But to someone who has been covering the PED saga for years, it was a relief to finally listen to a guy who could speak about it without sounding as though every word had been written out for him by a room full of attorneys.

A phony doesn't say: "Part of me was a nervous wreck and scared to death to come up here today."

A phony doesn't tell you stories about his wife's referring him to a Bible passage on the plane ride to Washington, a passage that reinforced the lesson that "I needed to tell the truth under oath."

A phony doesn't say: "If people think I'm lying, they should call me a cheater."

I listened to this guy speak for an hour, and he never sounded like a guy who was trying to stay "on message" or was trying to stay on some holier-than-thou script.

He sounded like a man who made a b-i-i-i-i-g mistake. And knows he has to live with the consequences. And thought there was value in trying to explain to all of us how something like that can happen, even to the last guy in the whole sport you ever thought would "cheat."

And in doing it this way, Pettitte drew a road map for all the drug culprits of tomorrow to follow. This is how it's done. Unfortunately for him, unfortunately for all of them, the truth won't set them free. But it sure beats the alternative.

There was one point in that news conference, though, when I shook my head and knew Pettitte had gotten it wrong. All wrong.

It was the point at which he spoke hopefully of how, now that he had answered "all" the questions, he looked forward to the time when his life could get "back to normal."

Well, here's the harsh truth, Andy:

That time isn't coming. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year.

That time isn't coming. Ever.

This is New York. There's another crisis coming. There always is in New York. … Ultimately, there's always something coming around the corner.

--Yankees GM Brian Cashman

If he thinks this story is over now, he's wrong. If he thinks the questions are over now, he's wrong. If he thinks he can go back to just talking about why he threw that fateful slider in the sixth inning now, he's wrong.

Sorry. This story still has more lives than Julio Franco.

Pettitte plays in New York City. He plays for the New York Yankees. He plays in the media capital of America. He plays for the most closely scrutinized sports franchise on the continent.

So the next twist, the next turn, the next eruption in this story undoubtedly will be coming any minute now. Fasten your seat belts.

Pettitte said he thinks he's ready. Maybe he's just a man trying to convince himself he's ready. But at least he has envisioned the reaction that awaits him in the bowels of, say, Fenway Park.

"I've always had to face hostile crowds because I'm a New York Yankee," he said. "Obviously, this is going to bring a different element into it. But I'll have to deal with it. … I hope God will give me the peace of mind to get on the mound and focus on what I need to focus on."

In this case, though, it's going to take more than just peace of mind. It's going to take the relentless effort of his entire organization because the men who run that organization know the next outbreak of trouble is just an Internet bulletin away.

"This is New York," said general manager Brian Cashman. "There's another crisis coming. There always is in New York. And it's not just New York. Ultimately, there's always something coming around the corner. And it's up to us who are involved in it to handle it."

Cashman's title is "general" manager. But crisis management is just about the centerpiece of his job description. So he's well-aware that the management of this crisis has only just begun.

The challenge for the Yankees isn't merely about the travails and transgressions of one pitcher. No, the challenge for the Yankees is this:

They can't let this story engulf their franchise the way Barry Bonds' story engulfed the entire Giants franchise for way too long. In New York, stories can get bigger than life. But for the Yankees, this story can't be allowed to get bigger than their whole team.

That means there might have to be more days like this one. More news conferences. More questions. More answers.

Stories like this don't die. They only hibernate. Especially when grand juries, indictments, defamation suits and potential suspensions remain so actively in play.

So Pettitte deserved that deep breath he heaved when this was all over. He deserved to be able to say, "I am relieved … [because] I felt like I had all this bottled up inside me." And he deserves a tip of the cap for answering the questions with candor and sincerity.

But that was no finish line he reached Monday afternoon at Legends Field. Sorry to say it was just the beginning.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com