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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