Owning Up

My friend Pete is trying to prod me to write something about the Tour of California. If you follow professional cycling — and if you do, you’re part of a group only slightly smaller than the present-day Women’s Christian Temperance Union — you know what that Tour is. If you don’t know about the ToC, but you’re still a sports fan, you want to talk about Andy Pettite.

Pettite, a pitcher for the Yankees, has never been on one of “my” teams. My teams being the Cubs (the birthright squad) and the A’s (adopted as a MIdwestern emigre to Bay Area climes). I can’t say I really know a lot about him, but I’ve always loved watching him play. He’s a tall left-hander. He’s long-faced, and dark-eyed, unsmiling and somber. In most games that matter, he looks like he’s tough for the hitters to deal with. Maybe just as significantly to me, the purist fan: he has always appeared to be without the nasty braggadocio that marks the on-field behavior of many if not most of his contemporaries.

Pettite, like many of those contemporaries, has been making news off the field. He admitted to congressional investigators last week that he took injections of human growth hormone. He also contradicted the account of his sometimes teammate Roger Clemens about Clemens’s getting HGH injections. Clemens says he never ever got anything nasty or illegal injected into his body. His former personal trainer says he shot up Clemens with both HGH and steroids, many times; Clemens says the trainer is lying. Pettite says that Clemens told him about getting HGH injections; Clemens says that Pettite “misremembers.”

That’s the kind of guy Clemens is: If someone says he told them something, then that person is lying or has a faulty memory. If Clemens hits an opposing player in the head with a pitch or throws a bat at them — the uglier moments in a brilliant pitching career — well, Clemens would ask you to believe those incidents just sort of happened by themselves.

Here’s the kind of guy Pettite is: Today, he met with a bunch of reporters to talk openly about what he’d told Congress. He used HGH. He was wrong and did it out of desperation. He didn’t blame anyone else for his predicament; he didn’t accuse anyone of lying; he didn’t engage in any dramatics about the damage the world out there has done to his good name. He apologized and owned up and said he’d try to learn and go on.

As a fan of any sport, you project a lot onto the athletes. Most of the time the noble stuff you’d like to read into the beauty of a player’s performance is just a fantasy. How many times have we had to learn that? But here’s one time when the man off the field seems more than the equal of the athlete we’ve seen for years.

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3 Replies to “Owning Up”

  1. Maybe it’s just my pessimism about our species in general but this did not seem much better than pragmatic. Granted I have not been following it overly closely but I did catch a statement made by Pettite yesterday in which he said he did something wrong but he didn’t feel like he had cheated. Well excuse me… what’s cheating if not using “unaccepted” means to get an edge up in a competition. If everyone was using HGH then there would be no advantage in doing it. So if he did it it’s cheating. All I get from this is that Pettite sees the writing on the wall, doesn’t believe he can get away with it at this point so he’s getting the jump on it as best he can. Why does this make him a good person? Taking HGH doesn’t necessarily make you a “bad” person. It’s a character flaw though, just like lying on your taxes (cheating on your taxes) or glancing at your friend’s paper in 6th grade math class (cheating on a test) and to say he wasn’t cheating is like a slap in the face of all the people who had the discipline not to use it.

  2. Like you, Dan, Pettite has never been on one of my teams (Red Sox & Cardinals) but I’ve always liked him. I bought his original contention that he took HGH to help heal an injury and not to enhance his performance. Sandy Koufax did the same thing between starts with cortisone shots. I guess the distinction is Koufax did it under a doctor’s care and Pettite did it under a trainer’s care. I haven’t been following the Pettite story lately. If it’s true that he used HGH while on injured reserve and he returned to the mound sooner rather than later and that’s all there is here, the right thing to do is just say, “OK, don’t do it again”.

  3. Hey, Eamon: I hear where you’re coming from on that–that this might be an example of opportunism. I don’t know. I guess my feeling is that any show of genuineness and honesty these days is refreshing, if not courageous. I’ll give him credit for that.
    Rob: Not only was Koufax under a doctor’s care, cortisone was not an “underground” treatment; it was widely prescribed in the general population and widely used among players. HGH is definitely an underground thing, and from some legal commentary I find, it’s against the law to use it without a prescription or to prescribe it for “non-medical” uses such as performance enhancement (I’m sure the same is true of cortisone).

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