Just Business As Usual For Boss & His Hired Gun

Just Business As Usual For Boss & His Hired Gun


Published : May 7th 2007 / New York Daily News

This was the real business of the Yankees at work yesterday, during the seventh-inning stretch of a Sunday afternoon game against the Mariners. This was the way the Yankees have done business forsuch a long time, done it with the biggest contracts and the biggest names and, occasionally, with the kind of Yankee moment Roger Clemens gave Yankee Stadium yesterday, when he stood in the owner's box with a microphone in his hand, with the most famous ballpark in this world in the palm of his hand, and told everybody he was a Yankee again.

Maybe this was the first time in the history of the Yankees that the first Sunday in May felt like Opening Day.

"Well," Clemens said, "they came and got me out of Texas and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back. I'll be talkin' to y'all soon."

Once, when George Steinbrenner was just starting in New York, when he was becoming the first to understand the power of free agency and spending Yankee money to make money, he made a huge show of signing Catfish Hunter on New Year's Eve in 1974, and that was the first time that he made the baseball Bronx feel like a suburb of Broadway.

And four years later there was the day that he hid Billy Martin in the clubhouse four days after firing him as Yankee manager and ran Martin onto the field at Old-Timers' Day and it was announced that he would be coming back to manage the Yankees again in 1980. The Yankee crowd went mad for Martin that day the way it went mad for Clemens yesterday, because this was the Yankees and the Stadium and things like this didn't happen anywhere else.

So, it was the Yankees being the Yankees yesterday, even though this time the signing of a big pitcher was as much about desperation as it was about the pitcher's star power, whatever he will have left in one of the great right arms in all of baseball history when he is pitching for the Yankees at the age of 45 at the end of one more baseball summer.

You know when it really became official how much the Yankees needed Clemens, who walked away from them after the 2003 World Series? When the Yankees lost 15-11 to the Mariners on Friday night. When they couldn't get anybody out in the top of the fifth inning that seemed as long as the 6-1/2 years since Steinbrenner's Yankees last won a World Series.

They were 12-15 after that loss to Seattle and down with the bad teams at the bottom of the AL East. They were looking at their 10th different starter of the young season tonight, and sixth rookie starter, a kid named Matt DeSalvo. That is why they moved the way they did to keep Clemens from going back to Houston; why in a million years they could not allow him to go back and pitch in Boston again.

So the Yankees agreed to pay Clemens $18 million over the rest of the season, and when you add in a 40% luxury tax, that means he really costs them $25 million. And if, for fun, you want to project his salary across 162 games, you can say a pitcher who turns 45 in August effectively became the most expensive ballplayer, for one season, the Yankees or anybody else has ever had.

The Yankees don't care and their fans don't care and if you want to know why, look at the standings.

The Yankees have been wrong about too many pitchers lately and were willing to pay anything to be right about somebody. If you consider the money Steinbrenner's Crack Baseball Committee has wasted on pitchers not good enough to win him another World Series since the Yankees beat the Mets in 2000, Clemens' new salary - even as he moves closer and closer to "senior softball," as he himself joked yesterday - probably seems like a steal.

The Yankees spend big on him, the biggest pitching name there is, to make the money they have wasted on other pitchers go away. Clemens does something that Steinbrenner can't do and Joe Torre can't do and general manager Brian Cashman can't do, as much as they all would like to.

Clemens stood there after "God Bless America" yesterday and made one of the most miserable Yankee Aprils of recent memory go away.

After that, it was not just Yankee business as usual, it was business as usual for Clemens as well. He will still say anything. He left because of his family, remember. Now he is only coming back, or so he wants us to believe, because his family has signed off on it.

"My family had to be okay with it," he said with Michael Kay and Al Leiter on television.

He talked about his kids then, talked about his late mother, talked about his former teammates. Clemens talked about how gosh-darned important it is to win one for "the three or four guys down here that still don't have a championship ring." What a guy. At $4.5 million a month, plus taxes.

This all happens, by the way, in a year when the Yankees talk almost solemnly about cutting payroll. The rest of baseball better look out when the Yankees, now back over $200 million again, really start spending.

To the end under George Steinbrenner, money is no object, not when it comes to a Yankee moment like the Stadium got yesterday, out of the sky, with The Rocket. Not even when it comes to staging the most expensive seventh-inning stretch in history.

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