TAMPA, Fla. _ Reggie Jackson once nearly came out of retirement, as Andy Pettitte will formally do Tuesday when he returns to Yankees camp. It was midseason 1988, the Yankees felt they needed a boost and Jackson was just about persuaded to give it a try for one more October.
"I would have done it," Jackson said in the Yankees clubhouse the other day, "but there would have been so much attention on me going to the minors in Columbus that I didn't want to go."
Besides, he had grown more comfortable as an ex-player than he had been as a player. "I was mentally gone. I didn't believe it was because my physical skills had eroded. They had, but I could have helped somebody," he said. "The media demands, along with the physical demand of getting ready was too much. And the game was changing. With all those things together, it was time for me to retire."
The point is, it is different for every player. In a way, though, it also is the same. The decision about when it is time to go, and to stay gone, is intense and complicated. It also stays with you for a long time. So Jackson and the other former Yankee greats who are in camp as special instructors all can identify with Pettitte, who signed a minor-league contract last Friday and is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session as a former ex-player today.
They know that Pettitte has done deep soul searching that involves weighing the privilege, the joy and the riches that go with being a major league ballplayer against the physical toll and the urge to have a regular family life. "Mariano is handling it now, and Derek is dealing with the end of his career. He's handling it in his own way," Mr. October said.
One thing is sure. No one begrudges Pettitte the right to change his mind and absolutely no one in Yankee camp blames him for wanting to try again.
"You know what? When it's time, the game will leave you behind. You don't have to leave the game behind," said Goose Gossage, the Hall of Famer who is here working with Yankees pitchers. "Chuck Tanner told me this my first time in the big leagues. He came up to me and got right in my face and said, 'You make them tear this stinking uniform off.' And I did."
Yankees instructors know that Pettitte is among the lucky ones, who went out on his own terms rather than being released or uninvited. He pitched well in 2010, which is a major part of why he and the team believe he can come all the way back.
Jackson wasn't the dominant slugger he had been in 1987, his curtain call season with the A's. But he did hit 15 home runs in 374 at-bats. That was enough to make him leave with a good feeling. "I had appreciated the gift I had. I appreciated the opportunity to change my life, to change my whole family's life," he said. "I looked at it as an unbelievable present I had been given. I didn't have any negativity."
Closure does not come so easily to everyone. Joe Girardi was unsure about retiring in 2003. "You know I actually prayed about it. I asked God to make it evident to me," he said. Two injured discs and two locked vertebrae later, the former catcher said, "It was real evident I couldn't stay healthy."
Bernie Williams, another instructor here this spring, never has officially retired. "Well, he thinks he did," Derek Jeter joked. Jeter added that he could not see himself returning after a year off, as Pettitte is doing. "Pitchers are different," the captain said.
Pitchers are not only different from hitters, they are all distinct from each other, especially in deciding when it's time to move on.
"When I said I was done, I was done," Ron Guidry said, thinking back to 1988. "When I got home, I said this is what I want to do and I meant it."
So he never had even a hint of a thought of a comeback? "Not once," he said. "But not everybody thinks the way I do."
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