Did Pettitte Cheat?
Here’s what we know: in December of 2007, baseball released the Mitchell Report, detailing a lengthy investigation into the use of PEDs by Major League Baseball players. The report identified 89 baseball players who were alleged users of PEDs, including Andy Pettitte. But this list was by no means comprehensive. The players discussed by name in the Mitchell Report were those implicated in the BALCO investigation, and those named by trainers Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee. The Mitchell Report stressed that “[t]he illegal use of [PEDs] was not limited to the players who are identified in this report.”
The Mitchell Report contained a discussion of Pettitte’s use of HGH, which was based on information provided by trainer Brian McNamee. According to the report, Pettitte was on the disabled list with elbow tendonitis from April 21 to June 14, 2002. During this time, Pettitte contacted McNamee and asked him about human growth hormone. McNamee then travelled to Tampa at Pettitte’s expense and spent about ten days assisting Pettitte during his rehabilitation. According to McNamee, this assistance included HGH injections. McNamee stated that he injected Pettitte with HGH on two to four occasions.
Prior to the release of the Mitchell Report, Pettitte had denied that he’d ever used PEDs. Pettitte was accused of PED use in an LA Times article in 2006, where the paper incorrectly reported that Pettitte was named in an affidavit on PED use given to federal authorities by pitcher Jason Grimsley. In response to this incorrect report, Pettitte made the following statement:
I haven’t done anything … I guess reports are saying that I’ve used performance-enhancing drugs. I’ve never used any drugs to enhance my performance on the baseball field before. Like I said, I don’t know what else to say except that it is embarrassing that my name would be out there with this.
But two days after release of the Mitchell Report, Pettitte changed his story:
In 2002 I was injured. I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my elbow … I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone. Though it was not against baseball rules, I was not comfortable with what I was doing, so I stopped. This is it — two days out of my life; two days out of my entire career, when I was injured and on the disabled list … I wasn’t looking for an edge. I was looking to heal…. If I have let down people that care about me, I am sorry, but I hope that you will listen to me carefully and understand that two days of perhaps bad judgment should not ruin a lifetime of hard work and dedication.
A few months later, Pettitte changed his story once again, if only slightly. In an affidavit to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Pettitte confessed to a third use of HGH, on a single day in 2004, again as part of an effort to recover from an elbow injury. According to the affidavit, Pettitte received this HGH from his father, and did not previously mentioned this use of HGH because he wanted to spare his father any negative publicity.
Did Pettitte cheat? Pettitte used HGH in 2002 and 2004, prior to the addition of HGH to the list of prohibited substances under baseball’s anti-doping program. But since 1971, Major League Baseball’s drug policy has prohibited the use of prescription drugs without a valid prescription. HGH is a prescription drug. Pettitte’s use of HGH broke baseball’s rules.
It’s a harsh conclusion, but an unavoidable one: Pettitte cheated.
Did Pettitte Lie?
We’ve reviewed above Pettitte’s major statements on his PED use. To summarize, prior to the Mitchell Report, Pettitte denied all PED use. Quickly after release of the Mitchell Report, he admitted to the PED use disclosed in that report. A couple of months later, Pettitte admitted to a single use of HGH not disclosed in the Mitchell Report.
At the time, Pettitte received high marks for stepping forward and admitting to his PED use. One reporter described Pettitte as “a role model for every player that used illegal performance-enhancing drugs”. That might be overstating things. Pettitte lied about his use of PEDs in 2006. He’s not the only player who quickly confessed to the things said about him in the Mitchell Report.
But by all reports, Pettitte is a decent and honest guy. His delay in confessing his 2004 use of HGH is understandable and something we can easily forgive. Once he confessed, his testimony before Congress was given great weight. As former Congressman Tom Davis stated about Pettitte, “when he raised his right hand, he told the truth.”
I may be grading on the curve here, but I think that Pettitte has been unusually honest and forthright in describing his use of PEDs. The confessions of players like Pettitte have provided the necessary corroboration for the testimony of witnesses like Brian McNamee (a witness that some in Congress did not find to be “that articulate or credible”). Pettitte’s testimony will be key in the upcoming perjury trial of Roger Clemens. All in all, it cannot be easy for Pettitte to testify against a former teammate and friend. Again, I think that Pettitte deserves credit for telling what I think is the truth under difficult circumstances.
Did Pettitte lie? Yes he did. But since the Mitchell Report was issued, Pettitte has told the truth, and has been recognized (by both the press and the Congress) for telling the truth. Pettitte is no saint, but I think he deserves credit for trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances.
Did Pettitte Enhance His Performance?
There’s no question about it: Pettitte took HGH intentionally, in an effort to enhance his performance. Yes, Pettitte says he took HGH to recover from injury, and not (say) so that he might throw a fast ball at 110 miles per hour. But cheating to recover more quickly from an injury is cheating to enhance performance, as Jim Caple and Rob Neyer have argued.
It’s a separate question whether Pettitte succeeded in enhancing his performance. I would argue strongly that he did not. We’ve written at length here about HGH: there’s no scientific evidence that HGH taken alone (and not in conjunction with other drugs) enhances athletic performance. At best, there’s very little scientific evidence that HGH can help an athlete recover from an injury. (Many would say that there is no evidence that HGH has healing properties, but I’m trying here to give HGH proponents every benefit of the doubt.) Pettitte’s own experience with HGH bears this out: when he was put on the disabled list with elbow tendonitis in April 2002, the Yankees projected that he might need all of May to recover. Pettitte used HGH to try to speed this recovery. But Pettitte was unable to return from the disabled list until mid-June of that year.
Yes, I’m well aware that HGH has its proponents (particularly among those who sell the stuff), and that athletes seem to regard HGH as possessing the performance-enhancing capacity of anabolic steroids. But I’m consistent on this point: I insist on following what the scientists tell me. And what the scientists tell me is this: Andy Pettitte used HGH for no good reason. It was a waste of his time. Worse: Pettitte damaged his reputation by using this drug, and initially lying about it, and he received no benefit in return.
That’s the best evidence we have: Andy Pettitte did not enhance his performance by using HGH. The guy won 240 games in 16 regular seasons and 19 games in the post-season, none of which were affected by his use of PEDs. His statistics were not PED-inflated.
What are we to make of all this? In particular, when Pettitte becomes eligible to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, how should we look at his confessed use of PEDs?
If you’re in the camp (and as we’ve discussed, it’s a large camp) that wants to bar all PED users from baseball’s Hall of Fame – well, then, you’ll have to oppose Pettitte’s admission to the Hall. Pettitte intentionally used PEDs in an effort to enhance his performance. You might try to create an exception for guys like Pettitte, who are good guys, who were not dedicated and determined dopers, and who eventually tried to be forthright and honest about their PED use. I wish you good luck with that effort, as I don’t see any principled basis for making such an exception.
But I’m not in the camp of those who would bar all PED users from the Hall of Fame.
Looking at the entire career of Andy Pettitte, I think that his brush with PEDs is a mere blip on the radar screen (well, technically, two blips). Pettitte’s use of HGH was against the rules, it was cheating … but it was an isolated incident (well, technically, two isolated incidents) that say nothing about his achievements as a ballplayer. If we need to examine the character of a Hall of Fame candidate, then Pettitte’s cheating is a black mark, but his honesty in dealing with this black mark reflects positively on his character.
Moreover, we need to look at Pettitte’s doping (and any other ballplayer’s doping, for that matter) in a larger context. Yes, Pettitte cheated, and for a time he lied about it. But he lied and cheated during an era when (according to the Mitchell Report) there was “widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances” by players “on each of the thirty clubs” in baseball. The Mitchell Report places the blame for this use on “everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades”, including the Commissioner’s Office.
If we’re going to bar Pettitte from the Hall of Fame, we also have to bar George Steinbrenner, and Donald Fehr, and Bud Selig, and nearly every writer who wrote about baseball in this era. The responsibility for PED use was widely shared.
Look at it this way: Pettitte played during an era when the use of PEDs was rampant. During this era, he took HGH three times, to no evident effect. Then he had a change of heart, and told us the truth. Technically, he cheated. But given the era in which he played, Pettitte played relatively clean, and he spoke with uncommon honesty.
I won’t judge whether Pettitte’s baseball achievements are worthy of the Hall of Fame. But there’s nothing in his use of PEDs that should keep him out of the Hall.
POSTSCRIPT: Blogger and IIATMS friend williamnyy23 has written a terrific piece on Pettitte and HGH that I think is a must read. In particular, I love his conclusion:
The reason Andy Pettitte has been given the benefit of the doubt about his involvement with HGH is because he deserves it. There is no blanket approach to treating those connected to banned substances. Distinctions need to be made and circumstances considered. Instead of reading too much into the events, it simply seems as if Pettitte dabbled in something about which he knew little, realized it wasn’t a good idea, and, once it became exposed, decided to own up to it.