Yankees lure Rocket with huge contract
NEW YORK (AP) — The seventh-inning stretch was ending when the low, familiar voice of public-address announcer Bob Sheppard told fans at Yankee Stadium to direct their attention to the owner’s box behind home plate. Standing there, microphone in hand, was Roger Clemens to personally announce his return to New York.
“Well, they came and got me out of Texas and I can tell you it’s a privilege to be back,” he said. “I’ll be talking to y’all soon.”
With his brief address, shown on the right-center field videoboard to 52,553 fans and many more watching on television, the Rocket rejoined the Yankees in most dramatic fashion.
He agreed to a one-year contract for $28,000,022 – the last two digits matching his uniform number – that will start when he is added to the major league roster for his first start, most likely in three to four weeks. Clemens will earn about $18.5 million under the deal, which will cost the Yankees approximately $7.4 million in additional luxury tax, meaning they are investing about $26 million in a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who will turn 45 in August.
“Roger Clemens is a winner and a champion, and he is someone who can be counted on to help make this season one that all Yankees fans can be proud of,” owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. “The sole mission of this organization is to win a world championship.”
Clemens helped the Yankees win World Series titles in 1999 and 2000, then left after the 2003 season intending to retire. But when Andy Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros, Clemens also joined their hometown team.
The Rocket retired again after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, only to re-sign the Astros both times. Pettitte changed the dynamic when he rejoined New York this season.
Clemens had limited his field to the Yankees, Astros and Boston Red Sox, his original team. But when Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks, spoke to the Astros and Red Sox in recent days, they said they’d prefer he join up with them in late June or early July. The Yankees, according to Hendricks, said: “We’d like you yesterday.”
“Make no mistake about it, I’ve come back to do what they only know how to do here with the Yankees, and that’s win a championship,” Clemens said. “Anything else is a failure, and I know that.”
Yankees manager Joe Torre had known for a couple of days that a deal was in the works. Talks intensified Thursday, with general manager Brian Cashman negotiating by Blackberry with Hendricks, who was at Fenway Park. Hendricks called Clemens on Friday, when the pitcher was in Austin, Texas, and a deal was approved by New York during a Friday late-afternoon conference call with Steinbrenner, Cashman, team president Randy Levine, chief operating officer Lonn Trost and Steinbrenner’s two sons.
Clemens got up in Houston at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday and flew up to New York. He arrived at LaGuardia Airport at about 1 p.m., changed at a Manhattan hotel and arrived at the ballpark in the sixth inning. He wore a Yankees cap and one of his Yankees World Series rings during a postgame news conference, but wasn’t sure which one.
“It’s nice to have a choice,” he said.
After Clemens addressed the crowd, fans started chanting his name in waves, as more and more realized he had returned.
“It feels like coming back home,” Clemens said. “You feel like you’re welcomed and you know what it’s all about.”
He begins with a minor league contract, and will start his workouts in Lexington, Ky., where his son Koby is playing in the Houston Astros’ farm system. He hopes to start pitching in minor league games in about two weeks.
Clemens didn’t even have a chance to tell Pettitte or other friends about the deal in advance.
“I’m not looking forward to the phone call or seeing Andy here shortly. He’s going to be mad at me,” Clemens said.
Clemens is eighth on the career wins list with 348 and second in strikeouts with 4,604. He was 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA last season for Houston.
“The only time I’ll be disappointed is if my body breaks down, and I’m going to put the work and the time in to hopefully not allow that to happen,” he said. “I expect to perform like I was 25, that’s my expectations. Anything short of that would be a disappointment.”
The Yankees, 14-15 and 5 1/2 games behind AL East-leading Boston, have seen so many pitchers get hurt that they are set to become on Monday the first team in major league history to use 10 starters in its first 30 games. The Yankees tried to persuade Clemens to join them when he visited their spring training camp on March 7.
“Make no mistake about it, the Yankees were in both of my ears the whole time,” Clemens said. “And that was well before they even had the problems that they’ve had on the mound.”
Clemens will have the same travel privileges he had with Houston last year, when he sometimes skipped road trips if he wasn’t scheduled to pitch, spending time at home with his family and working with Astros minor leaguers. Torre discussed the arrangement with his veteran players before the Yankees agreed.
“If he’d like, I’d carry his bags out to the car,” Jason Giambi joked.
Red Sox players were saddened to lose out on Clemens, but being in first place cushioned the blow.
“It would have been nice to have him, but we didn’t need him,” Curt Schilling said. “I feel like we were a legitimate World Series contender without him.”
Houston catcher Brad Ausmus was disappointed.
“I would much rather have Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on this team with us,” he said. “They’re big-game winning pitchers. I loved playing with them.”
Clemens, despite annual retirement announcements, shows few signs of slowing down. He joked when a question was asked about the length of the contract.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” he said. “I think I can go right into senior softball.”
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczysnki in Minneapolis and AP freelance writer Jeff Melnick in St. Louis contributed to this report.