To many, it's a scary word. It is something that instills fear in most, as the unknown is often the scariest thing in one's life. We are a culture of people that get used to things being a certain way and freak out when things are slightly altered. Heck, we are a culture that freaks out on Facebook every single time Facebook decides to update its look. But sometimes, we simply cannot accept change until it kicks our butts.
Perhaps the greatest athlete I have ever seen in my life is Michael Jordan. Growing up, nobody was more dominant and nobody could beat the guy. Despite hating him (due to his dominance), there was a certain sense of closure when he pushed off Bryon Russell (I'm just being honest here) and hit that foul line jumper. It was a perfect moment to end the perfect career.
Or so we thought.
As I was dealing with the biggest change in my own life, transitioning from a small high school to the 40,000 student University of Florida, Michael Jordan was struggling to deal with his. It was hard for us fans to get used to the game without Jordan but eventually it became the status quo. For a competitor like Mike though, he just couldn't let it go.
I sincerely feel for younger fans that only saw Michael Jordan play for the Wizards. He was good, sure, but he wasn't Michael Jordan. It wasn't the same as he was older and the game had moved on without him. Now, instead of that last shot over Russell with his right hand flailed forward in perfect follow through, our last image of Michael Jordan is walking off the court in a Wizards uniform, defeated. That's not the way it should be. Now I fear the same could happen to an athlete with whom I have a more personal connection.
As I was engrossed in the NCAA tournament on Friday, I got a text from a friend. He informed me that Andy Pettitte had just signed with the Yankees. It was a very surreal thing to hear. First of all, I was very aware in that moment that my sports update app was slow to inform me of this news. Secondly, one of my favorite Yankees in my lifetime was back with my team. Why wasn't I jumping for joy?
I think the problem for me was two-fold. Before we get into it, let me be clear that neither of the two folds relates to my mind being completely on the Florida/Virginia game that I was watching when I got the news. Anyway, let's get into this Pettitte un-retiring thing.
If Pettitte is the same guy that left the game after the 2010 season, the Yankees added a left handed starting pitcher with playoff success. Now notice the word that started that sentence. If......
Andy Pettitte will be 40 this season and he's been out of the game for a year. There's a chance that despite his competitive spirit, Andy may not be the same pitcher. I'd hate to see Andy come back in May to a standing ovation only to have a mediocre-bad year. Previously, Andy left on top. He didn't leave after winning a title like John Elway or Michael Jordan, but then again he's not an elite player of the game like either of those guys. Still, Pettitte had a great 2010 season and he pitched well in the playoffs. Our last memories of Andy Pettitte at this moment are very positive. Much like Jordan, I'd hate for that to change.
The other part of this relates back to the word of the day, change. Knowing that Pettitte retired, the Yankees changed. They had to. It took them two offseasons but the Yankees finally moved forward in building a post-Pettitte rotation. Now, it seems that may be compromised.
Imagine you are Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Phil Hughes, and to an extent, Freddy Garcia. You make the Yankee rotation out of camp and you should be excited. However, rather than being able to relax, you have to pitch nervously as looming in the shadows is #46. You know he's taking someone's spot come May, but whose? All of a sudden, these guys can't pitch with a clear head because they know that every start is being judged and one bad start could mean the end of their tenure as a Yankee starter. That is no way to live.
It's also no way to develop young talent. Yankee fans complained when Joba Chamberlain didn't become "the savior" due to Yankee mismanagement of his career. He never had a defined role and it was a problem for a number of years. Signing Pettitte could do that to one or more of these young pitchers.
Perhaps Phil Hughes is the odd man out and he goes back to the bullpen. He could do well there but maybe that's the last straw and he never becomes the elite pitcher he's looked like before and looks like again this preseason.
Maybe Ivan Nova is the odd man out and he either gets misplaced in the bullpen or goes to AAA and his confidence is shattered.
Even worse, what if Pineda is the odd man out? He has options so he's sent to AAA. Seems ok on the surface but a guy that made the All-Star team last year in the minor leagues? I'm not so sure that's great for a young pitcher's confidence and the last thing the Yankees need is for the guy obtained for Jesus Montero to falter. Many fans see that trade as a big risk, but it is one that can end up being a success if Pineda is treated well and becomes the pitcher he's already showed signs of being.
It is a paradox of ideology, won of course by the overlying Yankee philosophy: WIN NOW! Andy Pettitte has the name and the resume to suggest that he is the best option for the rotation now. The question becomes though, is winning now worth sacrificing the future?
Perhaps it is, as nothing in sports is more important than winning. Perhaps the Yankees can find solace in the fact that even if they destroy some young talents, they have a few more waiting in the wings that they hope they won't destroy moving forward.
The Yankees rotation is changing and Andy Pettitte is the catalyst. The only question remaining is "will our final image of Andy Pettitte be Michael Jordan or 1998 or 2004?" I'd suggest that if it isn't 1998, the ramifications of this deal might be more severe than any Yankee fan is ready to deal with.