“I’ve been around professional athletes for 30 years and have never met one more decent than Andy Pettitte” writes the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice. Hey, I’ve not been around any professional athletes during that spell, and I’ve still never met one who signed a lucrative Yankee contract the day after he learned he was implicated in the Mitchell Report.

In a soul-cleansing, hour-long news conference, Pettitte talked about how he’d struggled with the decision to use human growth hormone, about his fractured friendship with Roger Clemens, and how he’d offered to walk away from his $16 million salary if the Yankees no longer wanted him.

He discussed faith and family, Bible passages that had sustained him, and, in the end, his tarnished legacy.

“Whatever repercussions come, I’ll take it like a man,” Pettitte said.

When he was done, he admitted to feeling a sense of relief and that he hoped he could begin the process of getting on with the rest of his life.

Consider yourself forgiven, Andy. Are you paying attention, Miguel Tejada? How about you, Roger Clemens? Want to think things through one more time?

Pettitte’s family and friends should be proud, because he couldn’t have handled things any better.

It’s also important to understand his state of mind. Pettitte had just signed a three-year, $31 million contract with the Astros when he blew out his elbow early in the 2004 season.

He couldn’t bring himself to admit his season was over and that he was going to be disappointing all those teammates and fans who were counting on him.

From the beginning of baseball’s steroid era, some of us have been waiting for one guy to come forward and explain why he did what he did. Here’s guessing Pettitte is about to learn how forgiving people can be.

Well, yeah, if he wins 15 games in pinstripes this season. Otherwise, forgiveness might not be on the menu. Don’t get me wrong, Pettitte seemed genuinely contrite yesterday, and unlike Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca or Jason Giambi, deserves credit for actually mentioning what he was apologizing for. But it’s a huge stretch to characterize the pitcher’s decision to use HGH as some kind of selfless act on the part of the-ultimate-team-player.

Surely Justice realizes coming back from an injury quickly and effectively not only enhances a player’s reputation, but is exactly the sort of thing that impacts future salaries. I’m not suggesting Pettitte needs to issue a refund to the Steinbrenner family — the Boss has profited quite nicely during the Steroid Era — but there’s a little more to this than merely wanting to make Uncle Drayton proud.