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What's Pettitte really afraid of?

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Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch covers baseball for The Record in New Jersey and worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News. The author of five books, he was recently voted a top-five columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

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When Andy Pettitte came to his front door in Deer Park, Texas, Sunday night, responding to a surprise visit from the New York Post, Yankee fans were hoping for a breakthrough moment — an end to the two-month impasse that’s kept Pettitte waffling about retirement.

Yankees executives have been waiting for the same epiphany. The left-hander hasn’t officially said yes or no regarding 2011, which only continues the mystery in the Bronx: Is today the day Pettitte finally announces his decision?

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So far, there’s been no break, not even when Pettitte was forced to address the Post. He told reporter Brian Costello, "I'm just chilling out, hanging. I'm relaxing. If I had something, y'all would know. If I knew exactly what I was doing, y'all would know."

There’s no shortage of explanations as to why Pettitte is reluctant to return. The first is the most obvious — that he’s had his fill of pitching after more than 3,000 career innings. As a devoted family man, Pettitte could have an understandable desire to spend his first summer at home since the '80s.

The team’s senior officials would have no problem with Pettitte walking away from his 15-year career; he’s certainly earned the right to decide when enough is enough. But they find it odd Pettitte hasn’t made a formal announcement, or even picked up the phone, as a courtesy, to update general manager Brian Cashman.

That’s fueled a secondary rumor at Yankee Stadium, the one that suggests Pettitte is afraid to commit to another season because he’s worried about testifying against Roger Clemens this summer.

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Remember, Pettitte is poised to be the government’s star witness — the one who’ll take the stand and declare that Clemens was a steroid user. This time there’ll be no hiding behind closed doors, no depositions like in 2008 during the congressional hearings. Unless Clemens has decided on a new defense strategy or, even more unlikely, chooses to cut a deal with prosecutors, the trial will begin in July with Pettitte going one on one against his former friend.

The emphasis here is on “former” — the two Texans, who’ve been teammates, workout partners and virtual blood brothers, are no longer on speaking terms. Their friendship ended the day Pettitte told Congress that the Rocket had spoken with him about using HGH in 1999, at Clemens’ home in Houston.

The embattled right-hander responded by saying Pettitte had “mis-remembered” their conversation. And therein lies the blueprint for the coming courtroom war: As he continues to insist he never took steroids, HGH or any other performance-enhancing drug, Clemens will do everything possible to savage Pettitte’s credibility.

That could be reason enough for Pettitte to stay out of the spotlight this summer. As one Yankees insider told the Bergen Record the other day, "You think (Clemens’ testimony) isn’t weighing on Andy’s mind? Who knows what Clemens is going to dig up?”

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Pettitte could very well have decided he doesn’t have the stomach to fight two wars this late in his career: He either sacrifices his body for one last season with the Yankees, or else he devotes his energy to fending off Clemens. At age 38, Pettitte simply may not want both headaches.

Of course, not everyone in the front office believes Pettitte is necessarily spooked by Clemens’ legal troubles. Some believe Pettitte is just shot —- if not emotionally, then physically. A two-month stint on the DL last summer for a serious groin injury might’ve been the final straw for a pitcher who’s been beaten up throughout his career.

That would explain why Pettitte hasn’t been working out this winter — he simply no longer has the desire to whip his body into shape. But Pettitte’s friends in the organization say there’s a long list of reasons why the left-hander should’ve otherwise dragged himself to the gym by now, including the $14 million to $15 million he stands to earn in 2011.

That’s at least a 20 percent raise from last year’s $11.75 million. Pettitte, however, is worth it, as the Yankees’ most dependable and most successful postseason starter. He’s enormously popular with the fans, respected in the clubhouse and has a good relationship with manager Joe Girardi. Another two or three injury-free seasons, and Pettitte could end up on the periphery of Cooperstown consideration.

So what’s not to like about taking the mound again in 2011?

POLL

  • Will Andy Pettitte play in 2011?
    • Yes, he still has that competitive fire
    • No, he's burned out
    • No, Clemens' trial has him spooked
    • I hope not, I hate the Yankees

“It has to be Clemens,” is what one Pettitte confidante concluded. That, and the fact the legal battle figures to be so fierce. The Rocket has been charged with six federal counts, including three of making false statements, two of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. In all, Clemens faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, although 15 to 21 months is the more likely sentence under federal guidelines.

Despite the possibility of being locked up, there’s no hint Clemens intends to back down; when his lawyers recently asked for a postponement, it wasn’t to allow for a plea bargain but for more time to digest the 54,000 pages of government evidence.

Pettitte knows better than anyone how stubborn Clemens can be — crazed, even, when he targets his enemy. He’s seen it a million times as a teammate. Now Pettitte is on the other side, wondering if Clemens hasn’t already made a doomsday decision: if he’s going down, Pettitte might as well go with him.

Tagged: Yankees, Andy Pettitte

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