Forum Spin Doctor
NEW YORK - Andy Pettitte returned to New York for a reunion and decided to stay. After three seasons with his hometown Houston Astros, he came up to the big city for a Nov. 10 gathering of the Yankees' 1996 World Series championship team, a benefit for manager Joe Torre's Safe at Home Foundation.
"Really at that time, there was no chance. In my mind it was Houston or nowhere - or retiring," Pettitte said. "It was out of my mind returning to New York."
By Dec. 8, Pettitte had changed his mind, turning down a $12 million offer to stay with the Astros to accept a $16 million, one-year contract with the Yankees, a deal that was finalized Thursday.
Pettitte said Torre and the Yankees put on a "absolutely the full-court press on me" to persuade him to rejoin Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and perhaps Bernie Williams.
"Obviously Joe is very special to me," Pettitte said during a telephone conference call. "Joe's been very instrumental, I think, in my success and my career, the faith that he showed in me when I felt like early in my career a lot of people were losing faith in me. He put his neck on the line for me several times."
The 34-year-old left-hander pitched for the Yankees from 1995-03 and went 13-8 for them in postseason play. He was 14-13 with a 4.20 ERA last season and joins a Yankees rotation that is projected to include Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Kei Igawa - or perhaps Carl Pavano is trying to come back from injuries that have sidelined him since mid-2005.
Roger Clemens, who like Pettitte left after the 2003 season to join the Astros, is another possibility.
"He's continued to come back and he's continued to be the best pitcher in the league. So you're like: Why wouldn't he play?" Pettitte said. "That's my take on it. So I'm sure he'll come back and play. Who with? I have no idea."
Pettitte didn't feel appreciated by the Yankees when he left, and general manager Brian Cashman said the team graded itself "poorly" for its effort three years ago. He thought returning for Torre's dinner "stirred emotions and feelings" in Pettitte. Torre and Jeter then followed up with phone calls.
"It definitely was an important aspect for him to feel wanted by us, and maybe that's, again, where we fell short before," Cashman said. "Sometimes it becomes too businesslike."
New York hasn't been to the World Series since Pettitte left, with starting pitching a chief culprit. Earlier this week, former Yankee Darryl Strawberry said he sensed bad clubhouse chemistry and said Jeter needs to embrace Alex Rodriguez.
Pettitte knows the Yankees want him to improve that chemistry.
"Sometimes it seems like when you get a whole great ballplayers together, they just don't automatically win. And whether it's the chemistry or whether it's other things, I have no idea why they haven't been able to be successful," Pettitte said. "You would think that all the talent they had put on that team, that they would have been extremely successful and extremely successful in the postseason."
New York's 1996 team won the first Series title for the Yankees since 1978, accomplishing the feat without any dominating seasons.
"It was just a special group of guys that we had, and we just felt like that no matter what happened, if somebody didn't get it done, the next guy was going to get it done," Pettitte said. "And we continued to battle. There (were) no guys hitting 50 or 60 home runs or anything like that. It was just a bunch of guys going out there and getting base hits and laying down a bunt when needed and getting a big hit when we needed it."
Pettitte wants to spend the rest of his career with the Yankees. His contract includes a $16 million player option for 2008.
He doesn't want to ever again be in the position of having to choose a team.
The two times I've been a free agent, it's been a nightmare for me," he said. "It absolutely drove me crazy."