When people talk about Hall of Fame candidates, one of the things they talk about is whether the player has a Hall of Fame resume.
Well, how’s this for a resume builder? A lefthanded pitcher who, in his second year in the big leagues, pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings on the road in Game 5 of a tied World Series. That pitcher’s team went on to a 1-0 victory to take a 3-2 series lead and eventually won that series in six games.
That pitcher went on to set the all-time record for postseason wins, going 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA in 44 postseason starts. That pitcher is Andy Pettitte, who is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year.
In that famous Game 5 of the 1996 World Series against the Braves in Atlanta, the Yankees' Pettitte outdueled future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who was charged with one unearned run in eight innings.
The two pitchers had matched up in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, and the Braves strafed Pettitte for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings en route to a 12-1 drubbing.
But Pettitte came up big at the biggest time, and not for the last time. He earned the respect of his teammates and Yankees fans as a big-game pitcher, which is one of the reasons he retired with five World Series rings in pinstripes.
Smoltz, who is now an MLB commentator on FOX, said earlier this month that he has had to relive that game every time he sees Pettitte.
“Unfortunately, I speak to him [about that game] just about every time I see him, knowing that big, lefthanded competitor who was on the receiving end of a 1-0 game,” Smoltz said. “I’ve always admired Andy, how he carries himself. I’ve always admired how you know what you’re getting when he stands on the mound. His hat's pulled down – you can see his eyes and that’s about it.
“And what people forget about that game is we beat him up and I beat him the first game, pretty handily. He did not have his best stuff and anyone who knows Andy Pettitte – and I’m sure his teammates knew he was going to deliver in his second game – and unfortunately for me, he did."
Pettitte enters his first year on the ballot as a borderline candidate based on his stats. In 18 seasons with the Yankees and Astros, he went 256-153 with a 3.85 ERA. He was the 2001 ALCS MVP, made three All-Star teams and finished in the top six in Cy Young Award voting five times, including a second-place showing in 1996, when he won 21 games for the Yankees.
Joe Torre, a Hall of Famer and Pettitte’s manager for four of those World Series rings, said in November: “I don’t think Andy’s going to get as much attention as he deserves. I’d like to see him get attention.”
Unfortunately for Pettitte’s chances, he is going to get attention for the wrong reasons. Pettitte admitted in 2007 that he used HGH in 2002. Pettitte was named in the Mitchell Report in 2007, and he immediately apologized for what he said was “an error in judgment” in using HGH in an attempt to come back from an elbow injury.
Pettitte’s support in the publicly revealed ballots as of Friday afternoon on bbhoftracker.com had him far, far away from the 75 percent needed to gain induction to Cooperstown. In fact, Pettitte was more likely to fall off future ballots completely. With 44.9 percent of the ballots publicly revealed, Pettitte had been named on just 12, which is 6.5 percent. Any player who gets less than five percent is removed from future ballots.
Smoltz, who was inducted on his first ballot in 2015 with 82.9 percent of the vote, said he knows voters have a tough call when it comes to Pettitte.
“As far as the Hall of Fame discussions,” Smoltz said, “I think you start looking at his numbers, you start looking at what he’s done . . . you know, this whole area is difficult for me personally to have views because I don’t have votes, but I just think as we go down these next few years you’re going to have to look at things a little differently collectively and where guys played, what era they played in and what do you value when you consider somebody to be a Hall of Famer or not. I think that’s an ever-changing kind of slope that a lot of people who have a vote have had to shift their thinking [about]. To each their own on what they believe strongly in or not.”
Baseball-reference.com lists Hall of Famer Jack Morris fifth among the most similar pitchers to Pettitte. In order, the most similar to date are CC Sabathia, Mike Mussina, Bartolo Colon, David Wells and Morris.
Morris was elected to the Hall for the Class of 2018 by the Modern Era Committee after not making it in 15 years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. Mussina is a strong candidate on this year’s ballot while Sabathia and Colon will be considered for the first time five years after they retire. Wells was on the ballot in 2013, but received just 0.9 percent of the vote.