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Hold the applause

The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, Fla.-- --Andy Pettitte didn't have to call a news conference and answer questions for nearly an hour about his use of human growth hormone or his entanglement in the illegal drug controversy surrounding his former teammate, Roger Clemens, and his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee.

Give Pettitte, the New York Yankees veteran left-hander, credit for not hiding behind a blanket statement and some "no comments" now that the whole world knows he used hGH. Give him credit for accepting the spotlight and for a professional, well-delivered apology to his teammates, fans and family.

But the praise should abruptly stop there.

Because Pettitte, a devout Christian with a reputation of being one of baseball's most upstanding guys, came clean only because he had to. And only after he had already lied.

Two days after his name was listed in the Mitchell Report, Pettitte issued a statement saying that in 2002 he used hGH "two days out of my life, two days out of my entire career."

That tune changed two months later, however, when he admitted under oath to attorneys for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he used the drug again in 2004, after it was supplied to him by his father.

Those were the only times, he swore yesterday in front of 100 or so reporters under a pavilion tent near left field at Legends Field, the Yankees' spring ballpark.

"Obviously, I have been put under oath and testified under oath," Pettitte said. "That's it. There are no other surprises out there."

Notice that Pettitte said not once but twice that it was "under oath." Here's a quick translation: "That's when I really, honestly, seriously told the truth because my butt was on the line."

So he's a great guy, an athlete who strives to be a role model and his teammates love him. Heck, three of the Yankees' most important players, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, attended the conference to show their support. Manager Joe Girardi also backed Pettitte, as did owner George Steinbrenner and his sons, according to several Yankee officials. It was the organization's way of saying it understands everyone makes mistakes and that Pettitte has been forgiven.

But let's not lionize Pettitte for his performance yesterday. Sure he's sorry he did it, but is that primarily because he got caught? Read between these lines.

"Do I think I am a cheater? I don't. From the bottom of my heart, and God knows my heart, I know why I was doing this," Pettitte said. "Was it stupid? Yeah, it was stupid. Was I desperate? Yeah, I was desperate. I wish I had never done it, obviously."

At the time of Pettitte's admitted use, hGH was not on baseball's banned substances list. "If it was illegal in baseball, I wouldn't have done that," he said.

A note to Pettitte: Back then, and now, hGH is illegal to use in this country without a prescription. Back then, you didn't have a prescription. And, back then and now, Houston and New York City, your cities of employment, are in this country.

Also, Pettitte attempted to make a distinction between steroids and hGH. He wants it known that he was trying to rebound from injury, not to enhance his performance.

"I didn't do it to try and get ahead of anyone," he said. "I didn't do it to try and get stronger or faster or throw harder. I did it because I was told it might be able to help me [return from elbow injuries]."

What he fails to realize - or admit, anyway - is that if you use hGH or steroids, you have cheated. One isn't more damning than the other. His GM gets that.

"Ultimately, it's illegal unless you have a prescription," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "So there is no distinction whether it is for recovery purposes or it benefits [performance]. It is what it is. It's illegal."

It's just easier to give a hall pass to the good guys like Pettitte or the Orioles' Brian Roberts than to a guy like Clemens, the classic schoolyard bully who refuses to give up the good fight, even though his old buddies Pettitte and McNamee say Clemens used hGH too.

The Clemens-Pettitte dynamic was a recurring theme during yesterday's conference, with Pettitte saying he hasn't talked to his old teammate in a month but hopes they'll be able to repair their friendship.

No matter what happens between them, Pettitte will be held in higher regard. Because he is more likable. Because he has asked for forgiveness. And because yesterday, he did it publicly.

Don't expect the same kind of announcement from Clemens. Ever. Or from former Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada when he arrives at the Houston Astros' camp this morning. The best bet is that Tejada will shyly and politely refuse comment and hope it all goes away.

That's the wrong tactic. Pettitte handled it the smart way.

So he deserves points for good judgment as well as good presentation.

But save the applause when it comes to his honesty.

He was only saving his butt.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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