Commentary

What's Pettitte's price for admission?

Originally Published: December 16, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Andy Pettitte screwed up.

Let's get that out of the way fast.

Every player who (pick your favorite action verb) used, or tried, or obtained, or experimented with HGH over the last decade knew it was wrong.

Knew it.

Knew it was a decision that was as shaky ethically as it was medically.

Knew it.

Knew it just from what he had to do to get ahold of that HGH in the first place.

Whether he had to head on down to the anti-aging clinic, or go see a doctor (or dentist) he'd never seen before, or click on some link he found for buycheapHGHrighthere.com, or call up his favorite strength coach, he had to know that didn't feel right.

Because it wasn't.

Wasn't legal. Wasn't honorable. Wasn't cool medically.

And every player knew that. Every one of them.

But …

We want you to consider the tale of two players. We won't name them. See if you can tell the difference.

Player A is a long-time star for a team that has won multiple titles. Great guy. Beloved by fans and teammates alike. Then finds himself connected with an HGH story he can't escape.

So he admits it. Admits he bought it. Admits he took it. Admits he did that over a long period of time, during which his team won championships and he was an All-Star. Admits he "sent the wrong message" to kids and to the public. Admits he's "very, very embarrassed."

[+] EnlargeAndy Pettitte
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesAndy Pettitte on using HGH in 2002: "I wasn't looking for an edge. I was looking to heal."
But Player A also says he wants to make it clear he never used steroids. And the only reason he used HGH was because he was hurt and wanted to get back on the field to help his team.

OK, now let's move on to Player B -- another terrific player for teams that did nothing but win. Another likeable guy. Fan favorite. Clubhouse favorite. Then looks up one day and hears his name all over TV and radio, linked to HGH use.

So Player B takes some time to think about how he should react, then confesses. Confesses by saying he was injured at the time. Confesses by saying he felt an obligation to get back and help his team. Confesses by saying he'd heard a lot of talk about the healing properties of HGH, so he tried it briefly, then stopped.

It didn't feel right. It wasn't the kind of player or person he was, or is. So he stopped. And ohbytheway, he never used steroids, either, despite what people have been saying about him.

Two stories that couldn't be more identical, right?

But Player B wakes up the next morning to find a headline that says: "PLEASE SPARE US."

Player A, on the other hand, is greeted by headlines like this one: "DON'T SINGLE OUT (PLAYER A)."

Hmmmm. What's up with that?

Two indistinguishable stories. Two very different reactions. Why is that, anyway?

Well, you probably figured out that Player B is Pettitte, a fellow who plays baseball for a living.

Player A, on the other hand, is New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, a guy who plays in that Teflon National Football League, in which all those chiseled bodies are clearly on the up and up.

Where's the outrage over Rodney Harrison, huh? We've been waiting for it to show up in some form, any form, for weeks now. We're still waiting. We'll probably wait a lifetime.

Maybe somebody will write an indignant column about this topic to fill space before the Super Bowl or something. But it'll come. Then it'll go. And then Rodney Harrison will go ride off on his parade float and soak in the cheers.

Meanwhile, there are baseball fans who will never forgive Andy Pettitte. Never. Even though there's no indication, in the Mitchell report or anywhere else, that he was a habitual HGH user.

But that doesn't mean we don't understand that reaction. We get exactly why people feel that. Pettitte deserves to pay a price -- some kind of price -- for what he admits he did.

But as you're inflicting that price on Pettitte, think of Rodney Harrison. And if your only reaction to his crime was, "How does this affect my fantasy team?" you have some confessing to do yourself -- about the never-ending double standard applied to baseball and football on this issue.

We don't want to belabor that one, though, because it leads us to a bigger issue:

Is what either of the two athletes did "cheating"?

This is a question that deserves a thorough nationwide debate one of these days. Doesn't it?

If an already-great player decides his goal in life is to break the biggest record in sports, and to do that he's willing to inject or ingest just about any substance on the market, that feels like cheating.

But what about all those players -- in all sports -- who used HGH for other reasons? What do we do about them?

It's getting more and more obvious to those who pay attention that HGH developed a reputation among athletes as some kind of miracle quick-healing potion. Do a little research. That theme comes up over and over.

We hear medical authorities tell us, just about daily, that that's a myth. But it's a myth that became part of the sporting culture. So clearly, it was that panicky desire to heal faster, to "get back on the field," that fueled the HGH use of hundreds of athletes.

"I'm willing to say that in the case of just about every guy who used HGH," one longtime baseball man told us recently, "it can almost always be traced to some kind of injury."

So let's ask you again: Is that "cheating"? Discuss.

Maybe yes. Maybe no. We all have some thinking to do to answer that question.

But whether it was or it wasn't -- in Andy Pettitte's case, in Rodney Harrison's case, in the case of anyone who looked up the phone number of the nearest anti-aging clinic -- it was still wrong.

Morally wrong. Legally wrong. Dead wrong.

And Andy Pettitte knew it. Knew it when he did it. Knew it when he stopped doing it. Knew it when he owned up this weekend.

So he'll deserve his inevitable trip to principal Selig's office. He'll deserve whatever boos he hears on Opening Day, and on every road trip for the rest of his life. He'll deserve whatever price he has to pay for this.

But that doesn't mean we can't put his offense in perspective, judged against the more heinous and selfish offenses of others, judged against the context of his career.

Sorry, we're just tired of the ridiculous oversimplification of a complicated issue. It never stops. People just can't wait to pin easy talk-show labels on every one of these stories. But look a little closer the next time you come up for air. They don't all fit.

So yeah, Andy Pettitte screwed up. That's where we started. That's where we'll finish.

But does he deserve more wrath than Rodney Harrison? Why?

Does he deserve to have his photo plastered all over the back page of a tabloid, with the photos of a bunch of other members of the All-Mitchell Report Team, under the giant headline: "CHEATERS?" We're still sorting that one out.

But we've already sorted this out:

All crimes in the courthouse are not created equal. And neither are all crimes in the Mitchell report.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com