When the Yankees chose not to make Andy Pettitte a competitive offer the winter before last, local press and fans alike were aghast that George Steinbrenner could let the lefty walk. A year later, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff survey’s the state of Pettite’s arm/hair and how the Yankee roster has evolved.

The gray hairs, on the other hand, sent us into deep thought.

About Yankees magic and mythology, about the last four years of disappointment, ridiculously heightened expectations and even more ridiculously increased expenditures.

Pettitte enjoyed an unofficial Yankees homecoming yesterday, at Legends Field rather than Yankee Stadium, and he received a pleasant ovation, more sitting than standing, as he took the mound. Once he began to pitch, he looked like someone recovering from left elbow surgery, indicated not so much by the two-run homer he surrendered to Alex Rodriguez as the fact he mixed in 26 balls among his 60 pitches.

And yes, he looked a tad gray, plenty of such rebellious strands integrating among the browns on his head. Like the rest of us (in the spirit of fairness, we are going bald rather than gray), he’s getting older.

“I’m not where I want to be,” Pettitte (above) said after his four-inning performance. “I want to be strong. I want to feel like I’m 100 percent. It’s still a work in progress. I’d be lying if I sat here and told everybody that I felt awesome.”

Can you imagine the panic that would be set off in New York had he said that while under George Steinbrenner’s employ, with just a week to go before Opening Day? Could you envision Pettitte starting April 6 against the Red Sox while on a limited pitch count?

You can say that the Yankees lack the “magic” they seemed to possess from 1996 through 2001. That’s easy, and not altogether inaccurate.

The harder part is figuring out what they could have done in order to keep the magic going.

Certainly, for example, they made the right call in cutting bait on Pettitte when they did. The same goes for their decisions on saying goodbye to Scott Brosius, David Cone, Joe Girardi, Jimmy Key, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton and John Wetteland.

Their worst two send-offs? Jeff Nelson, the first time, and David Wells, the second time — two of the least popular players, within the organization, of the era. Perhaps emotions got in the way.