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The Curse of the Pettitte

Now that the Yankee players have packed up their packs and are homeward bound without a ring, without a World Series to play in, without, even, a pennant, defeated by their chief antagonists (actually, George III’s chief antagonists) Monday morning managers are parsing and dissecting the reason, the basis for the fall of the magnificent Yankees.

A lot of people give different answers. One version has it that you can’t just buy a bunch of star players and reasonably expect them to play together with the kind of camaraderie that infused the ‘96 Yankee team, when Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Bernie Williams, the center of the Yankee line-up, were home grown, farm team graduates, full blooded Yankees and class flowing through every vein. That same kind of team play and camaraderie, by the way, glued the Boston Red Sox together this year.

Others opine that hocking the club house to buy mega priced Alex Rodriquez, as George III did, retro-fitting him at third base, didn’t insure class, He’s a good ball player, Hall of Fame material, said Curt Schilling –  a seasoned baseball person, now pitching the Red Sox to a second World Series victory. But Rodriquez doesn’t have class, Schilling added to his opinion. Deker Jeter – who does have class – would never have, like a petulant kid on the sandlot, hit the ball out of his opponents hand, then assuming a “What did I do?” innocence. But then Jeter’s a Yankee. Rodriguez is a talented hired gun, and plays like it.

Many will tell you that the Yankees lack pitching that led to the early demise this year. Others say it is Steinbrenner’s penchant for buying stars of yesteryear, thinking that their engines can run on the fumes of publicity and fame gone by. Kevin Brown is one example of that. Right now, the best one can say of Brown is that he used to be a pitcher of quality. Watch for George III to start courting Pedro Martinez, the heralded pitcher from the Red Sox who is a free agent after this year, whose tools have also substantially diminished. He’s a perfect target for the myopic, star buying George III.

But none of those things are the real reason the Yankees are at home, watching the World Series on TV.

The Red Sox have allegedly been under a hex, a curse, since 1918 when Harry Frazee, then owner of the Red Sox, sold a Hall of Fame quality pitcher, one who had pitched the Red Sox to the World Series Championship in 1918, to the Yankees. Of course, that player was Babe Ruth, the Bambino, who became the bedrock of Yankee and baseball tradition. The hex is called the curse of the Bambino, because after he was sold in 1918, the Red Sox haven’t won another World series to date.

The Yankees now have their own curse, however, and it was responsible for the Yankee defeat in 2004. In 2003, the Yankees had a left handed pitcher (left handed pitchers are rare, and a commodity much sought after in Major League circles). His name is Andrew Eugene Pettitte. He came up through the Yankee organization, and in nine (9) seasons with the Yankees won 149 games and lost 79. That totes up to a .654% win percentage. If you want comparison, Curt Schilling, considered one of the best pitchers in baseball today, has a career .599% win percentage; Randy Johnson one of the most feared pitchers in baseball, has a 650% winning percentage. Babe Ruth, who would have made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, if not as a hitter, had a career .670 % win percentage. Not bad comparisons for Mr. Pettitte.

But for some reason, Mr. Steinbrenner wasn’t keen on Mr. Pettitte, perhaps because Mr. Pettitte was a religious, respectable human being who was a pitcher, not a carousing, roustabout hitter. For whatever reason, neither George III, nor any of his ‘baseball people’, picked up the phone to Mr. Pettitte to talk about a new contract. Rather, they let him drift off to be signed by the Houston Astros. Don’t say Pettitte wanted to go. He did not. He waited for a call to re-up, and never received one. Interesting, however,  that Mr. Pettitte was traded to Houston in the National League –  so he wouldn’t pitch against the Yankees.

And what was George III proud to announce soon after Pettitte departed. He announced that he had outmaneuvered the Red Sox and signed Alex Rodriquez, the highest priced player around. Rodriquez is a lifetime .305 hitter. Jeter, who plays next to Rodriquez, has a career average of .315; Boggs, .328; Dimaggio was .325; Gehrig, .340; Ruth, .342. So Rodriquez can hit, but he’s not exactly a flaming rocket.

Pettitte on the other hand was outstanding.

Speaking of rockets, when Pettitte signed with the Houston team, Roger Clemens, also known as the Rocket, who had retired from baseball and the Yankees, un-resigned and joined Houston. Houston, a modest payroll team, went further with Pettitte and Clemens, that the Yankees did with their highest-payroll-in-baseball team did in their league.

You don’t have to go far to see the parallel comparison. Inconceivably, Frazee sold Ruth, and the result was that the Red Sox were blighted for decades. Inconceivably, and with no better sense, George III sold Pettitte, and the blight has just begun.