(This post is by Bex, you may know here as @rebexarama, or as my co-writer at You Can’t Predict Baseball.
In early August 2009, after all the elation had subsided from that fantastic four-game series when the Yankees swept the Red Sox, I started thinking of, of all things, Mike Mussina. There was a reason for it. Over that weekend, I’d seen two pitchers that I consider his contemporaries, John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte, pitch.
Smoltz started the first game, a 13-6 utter laugher that was only as close as that because the Yankees’ mopup guys simply would not let the game end in the ninth inning. Smoltz’s start was embarrassing; he went 3.1 innings and gave up eight runs, and was designated for assignment the next day. Pettitte started the fourth game. Pitching against Jon Lester and trying to complete the sweep, Andy actually outdueled him, giving the Yankees seven scoreless innings.
When Smoltz was pulled from the first game, the YES broadcast spent so much time focused on him in the dugout. He just looked… like he knew that was it. I was obviously ecstatic the Yankees were pounding the Red Sox, but it was a bit depressing to see his career end like that. Now, his career didn’t quite end there, as the Cardinals picked him up and he was pretty decent for them for the rest of the season, but John Smoltz – and I am not at all trying to disparage his Hall of Fame career here, because that’s definitely what I think of before his time in Boston, obviously – is gonna be that guy who was beyond amazing with the Braves, then got old and tried to make a comeback as a starter in the 2009 AL East. It just wasn’t going to happen, but his pride convinced him he could do that.
Moose was different. After a terrible 2007 and a few true clunkers to begin 2008, he had a completely awesome year in 2008, putting up his second or third best year in pinstripes after what should have been a Cy Young-winning season in 2001. We all know he finally won twenty games in a season, a milestone that had eluded him throughout his excellent career. Yes, pitcher wins are totally stupid, but it was frankly wonderful to see that and absolutely the highlight of the 2008 season. After it was over, he chose to retire on top; he’s missed a lot, but you can’t go out any better than that.
People who know me even just a little bit know I’m rather *ahem* fond of Andy Pettitte, and there’s always that little irrational niggling part of my mind that gets paranoid when he comes back every year that he’s simply going to collapse. He wouldn’t be the first older pitcher that would happen to. Watching him struggle so badly through the second half of 2008 and some parts of the pre-All Star Game 2009 were terribly painful and I don’t particularly want to relive that. However, it’s been a joy to watch him this season; more or less every start isn’t just a quality start, it’s an excellent start. However limited ERA may be as a stat, it’s pretty darn cool to see him top three in that stat in the league. It’s been said a million times already, but it just makes me so happy to say it, I’ve never seen him pitch this well. Even this early, it brings up the inevitable question: after this year, if he keeps pitching like he has, does he go out on top like Moose?
Truth is, as much as I may like to poke fun at the media’s love of the “Core Four,” the many totally cheesy montages YES runs of them, and whatever the heck that Sports Illustrated cover was (seriously, Jorge, if you’re gonna touch Mariano’s knee, you should like, actually touch Mariano’s knee, not just hold your hand there awkwardly), thinking about Jeter, Mo, Jorge, and Andy retiring is completely terrifying. On the other hand, thinking of them staying on way too long is similarly terrifying. The end of Bernie’s career hurt. I don’t want to see Mariano turn into the 2010 version of Trevor Hoffman. I don’t want to see Jeter’s horrible slump from early May of this year become Jeter’s regular production. And I never, ever want to see Andy completely unable to get American League hitters out, sitting in the dugout looking like he knows he’s done, like Smoltz in that game from ten months ago.
I can completely understand players like Smoltz who have had astounding careers and simply don’t want to leave the game. I don’t blame them. It must be difficult to walk away from the game when you feel like you’re at the top of it. Baseball’s wonderful, but it’s inevitably going to break your heart. I just hope it breaks my heart in that the players I love leave the game before the game completely leaves them. Moose did retirement right; I want the Yankees I love to do the same.