We knew this was coming. He had been doing this for a couple years now and you could feel the hold baseball had on Andy Pettitte weakening. His kids are getting older, his body is starting to betray him…

But we all expected him to come back. Perhaps not logically, not publicly, but I know in some small place in my heart I expected him to come back, gut out 150 innings next year and save our rotation. Because that’s what Andy did. He won on talent and skill, but mostly on pure heart. If he debuted now, he’d be anointed a GRITTY player by the Twitter humorists.

I grew up with Andy, Derek, Mo and Jorgie. I was born in 1989 and was close to seven years old when they won in 1996. I don’t remember it. I wish I did. My earliest Yankee memory is my brother taping the New York Times story about the World Series win on his wall.

Derek was my favorite when I was a kid, because he was Derek Jeter. He seemed like the perfect baseball player. I’ve come to appreciate both Posada’s consistency and Mariano’s godliness through time. But Andy?

He was a lefty. I’m a lefty. So I always liked him more than David Cone, or David Wells. I loved El Duque’s motion but damn it he was another righty! Mussina seems like a class act and he was great, but he threw with the wrong arm. I was one of the few lefties in my classes in elementary school and I loved that Andy Pettitte, the big-nosed, Texan, Yankees starting pitcher and I, the scrawny red head, had it in common.

I loved his pickoff move. Is there anything more disheartening than watching your leadoff hitter, speed demon, get on base, then seeing him watch motionless as Andy picked him off? I wouldn’t know – he never picked off any Yankees.

I respect Andy for his commitment to his family, to his sons. I respected that he came clean about the HGH, and seemed to be genuinely sorry. That is completely biased, but I believed him.

He was a man’s man. He seemed like a father I wish I could have (but we won’t go in to that now). Dependable. Rock steady. And he cared! The fist pumps, the yells, talking to himself. He was a pitcher’s version of Paul O’Neill.

That always spoke to me. I can forgive you for striking out, for making an error. I can forgive you for giving up a homerun to lose a game. I can forgive you for getting shelled (looking at you AJ Burnett). But the one thing you must do is care. You must want it as much as I do, which is a tall task. I think that’s why I have this irrational hatred for Carl Pavano. Throughout all his injuries, he just seemed to shrug and slouch back to the trainer’s table.

But this is about #46. While I think some numbers have been retired hastily, no one should ever wear that number again. This was a beautiful era in Yankees baseball, and the record of it will be the numbers in Monument Park. #2, #42 and yes, #46 should be kept for posterity.

So long Andy. You were a great pitcher, and a great guy. You’ll be missed, especially this season when our starting pitching is so weak. I’ll miss your pickoffs. I’ll miss your stare. and damn it all, I’ll miss having my lefty brother in the rotation.

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