02/03/2011 2:15 PM ET
Pettitte retires a Yankees legend
Starting with a Series win in '96, lefty proved he was special
By Sam Borden / SNY.tv
Andy Pettitte excelled during his 16-year career. All but three of those seasons were spent with the Yankees. (AP)

The thing about Andy Pettitte that always struck me was how different he was off the field versus on it.

People say that about athletes all the time, of course. They talk about how a guy really is a different person when he's in the middle of the action. But with Pettitte the disparity was stark; he really was that Texas-drawl, aw-shucks Andy in the clubhouse when you were talking about golf or family, and it just didn't gibe with the hat-pulled-low, steely-eyed stare Pettitte that took the ball for the Yankees in so many big games.

Now Pettitte is going home. Earlier Thursday news broke that after considering retirement for each of the past three offseasons, Pettitte has told the Yankees his career is officially over. As big a presence as the on-field Pettitte was for the Yankees over most of the past 16 years, he never made any secret of the fact that leaving his family in Texas each season became harder and harder. This winter, apparently, the pull was finally too much to ignore.

There are an incredible number of plotlines to consider when it comes to Pettitte's retirement. People will want to talk about his Hall of Fame candidacy and his admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs. They will want to talk about whether his likely involvement in the Roger Clemens' court case this year impacted his decision to step away, and they will want to talk about the timing of his decision, word coming less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers go through their first workouts in Tampa, Fla.

There is time for all that. For today, at least, it should be about a legend walking away from a legendary franchise. Whether or not Pettitte is a baseball Hall of Famer down the road and whatever his motivations for retiring now, there is no denying what he meant to the Yankees. No denying that he goes down as one of the most memorable Yankees of all time.

Joe Torre used to talk about Pettitte all the time, used to go to him whenever someone asked the manager about "handling the pressure of New York." If the Yankees had a new pitcher, someone who had come from a different city and was trying to figure out how to handle the stage in the Bronx, Torre would inevitably bring up Pettitte and how he composed himself, even as a kid, in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series against the Braves.

That was the night, Torre would say, that he knew Pettitte had it. Had the ability, for all his syrupy, good-old-buddy persona away from the mound, to cut through the tension of the biggest moments and deliver. Pettitte was 24 years old that season, had exactly one playoff win (he'd gotten it about a week earlier, by the way) when he faced off with John Smoltz that night in Atlanta. It didn't matter.

Eight scoreless innings later, the Yankees were on the verge of winning the World Series. On the verge of turning the franchise around and beginning one of the grandest dynasties in modern sports. Without Pettitte -- without those eight innings and that 1-0 win -- maybe none of it happens.

Pettitte gave the Yankees plenty over 13 seasons (and who can forget the three-year sabbatical in Houston), gave them 2,500 innings and 203 wins and 1,823 strikeouts. He peered in, glove up and hat down, at over 10,000 batters during the regular season and pitched more than one full season extra in the playoffs. His 19 career playoff wins are a record.

There are plenty of questions hanging over his retirement, plenty of questions about what it means for the Yankees and why it had to happen now and what the future holds for Pettitte's legacy. They are all reasonable and understandable, all legitimate issues well worth discussion.

They're also all for another day. Today is about what Pettitte meant to a team and its fans. Today is about a Yankees great finally going home for good.

Sam Borden is an award-winning columnist for LoHud.com and The Journal News and is a contributor to SNY.tv.
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