Clemens Returns, and So Does Hope for Yankees

Clemens Returns, and So Does Hope for Yankees


Published : May 7, 2007 / The New York Times

It was a news bulletin delivered before 52,553 fans on a glorious spring day at Yankee Stadium, where the season is suddenly alive with hope again. The man with more victories than any living pitcher was holding a Yankees microphone, addressing the crowd with a splash of the high drama that has punctuated his career.

“Thank y’all,” said Roger Clemens, who was wearing a business suit, a crew cut and a Yankees World Series ring as he stood in a box above home plate. “Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you it’s a privilege to be back. I’ll be talking to y’all soon!”

Then Clemens pumped his fist as Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman crouched behind him, beaming. For a $28 million salary — prorated based on the date he is added to the major league roster — Clemens has returned to the Yankees, who trail the Boston Red Sox by five and a half games in the American League East but got a pitcher both teams wanted.

“Make no mistake about it,” Clemens, who hopes to be ready by late May, said later at a news conference. “I’ve come back to do what they only know how to do here with the Yankees, and that’s win a championship. Anything else is a failure.”

A sense of desperation has hung over the Yankees for weeks, cresting with a 9-14 April that was followed last Tuesday by a hamstring injury to the prized rookie Phil Hughes during a game in Arlington, Tex.

The Yankees acquired Clemens in a trade from Toronto in 1999, then watched helplessly as he retired after the 2003 World Series, his fourth in five years with the team.

Clemens, who turns 45 in August, changed his mind and kept playing, joining his hometown Houston Astros for three more seasons. Cashman tried to sign Clemens in March and consummated this deal Friday night, when he talked with the Yankees’ team president, Randy Levine, and chief operating officer, Lonn Trost, about how Clemens might make a grand entrance.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if he showed up and announced it himself on the scoreboard?’ ” Cashman said, reflecting on the day in a telephone interview last night. “It just seemed like it would be a real nice touch, and only someone of his type of stature could really pull it off.

“It was one of those neat moments in Yankee history. People who had tickets today will always remember that and always have something to talk about. I got goose bumps. He’s just such a presence.”

The fans erupted after the announcement, with the loudest and longest applause of an afternoon in which the Yankees would cruise to a victory over the Seattle Mariners, 5-0. Many fans immediately took out their cellphones to share the news.

The Yankees were in the dugout at the time of the announcement, getting ready for the bottom of the seventh inning. Manager Joe Torre said the players were not aware of the news beforehand, although some said they knew, including Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi, who had regularly sent messages to Clemens since spring training, urging him to return.

“The Yankees were in both of my ears the whole time,” Clemens said, “and that was well before they had the problems they’ve had on the mound.”

Those problems have manifested themselves in a carousel of pitchers who have started games. Tonight, the Yankees will start Matt DeSalvo, their sixth rookie starter this season. DeSalvo will be their 10th starter over all, the most any team has used in the first 30 games of a season.

Three starters have missed time with hamstring injuries, leading Cashman to fire the team’s strength coach, Marty Miller, last Wednesday. The veteran starter Carl Pavano has ligament damage in his right elbow and has told teammates and club officials that he wants to have reconstructive surgery.

When Hughes was injured, Cashman was on that trip to Texas, a rare road visit for him, and one with an ulterior motive.

Cashman wanted to fly to Houston to meet in person with Clemens and his agent, Randy Hendricks. But Hendricks had business elsewhere.

“If you saw me walking around in Texas looking the way I was looking, now you’ve got a little secret to why,” Cashman said. “Here, as I was trying to get Randy Hendricks on the phone, he was text-messaging me: ‘I can’t talk to you now, I’m in Fenway Park.’ ”

But Hendricks said he did not leave Fenway thinking that the occupants, the Red Sox, had the same timetable as Clemens. Hendricks said the Red Sox and the Astros wanted Clemens to return in mid-June or later. Clemens is nearly ready now.

“I put it to Roger: ‘Look, you’re either going to get ready to play now with the Yankees, or you’re going to have to delay it for another month. Which is it?’ ” Hendricks said. “He’s Roger Clemens. From my point of view, when he says he’s ready to play, teams should listen.”

The Red Sox had obvious appeal to Clemens for the historical symmetry they would bring to his career. Clemens played his first 13 seasons in Boston, and he is tied with Cy Young for the franchise record in victories.

But Clemens retains strong ties to the Yankees, with seven former teammates in the clubhouse as well as Torre.

And then there is George Steinbrenner, 76, the Yankees’ principal owner, whose box Clemens visited in spring training when he dropped by Legends Field to watch his close friend Andy Pettitte pitch. Clemens has not said what Steinbrenner told him then, but it made an impact.

“He had some words for me, which I’ll keep with me forever,” Clemens said. “I might share those when this season is all said and done. I’ll keep those close to my heart for now.”

Clemens is second on the career list in strikeouts, with 4,604, and eighth in victories, with 348. He went 7-6 with a 2.30 earned run average in 19 starts for Houston last season, but the year ended awkwardly.

On the last weekend of the regular season, a report surfaced in The Los Angeles Times in which the former Yankee Jason Grimsley, in an affidavit, identified Clemens and Pettitte as players who had used performance-enhancing drugs. Soon after, the United States attorney Kevin V. Ryan said the report contained “significant inaccuracies” but did not elaborate.

Pettitte left the Astros to sign with the Yankees, and Clemens was also a free agent who had not committed to continuing his career. If he did, though, Clemens planned to start his season later, as he did in 2006, to keep his body fresh for the stretch drive.

Cashman had a standing offer to Clemens of $25.5 million, from a meeting with Hendricks in March. The Yankees’ recent urgency gave Clemens leverage in negotiations and essentially cost the Yankees an extra $2.5 million.

Privately, the Yankees had been determined since last winter not to be outbid for Clemens, who made a prorated portion of $22 million with the Astros last year. His current annual salary is the highest in baseball.

The Yankees expected the Red Sox to make a substantial offer, and while they believe the Red Sox did that, an official directly involved in the talks said that Boston offered Clemens $10 million less than the Yankees, and the chance to be part of a five- or six-man rotation, depending on his preference. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to violate tampering rules.

Cashman said Clemens would work out for the next week and a half in Lexington, Ky., where Clemens’s son Koby plays for an Astros farm team. Cashman said the Yankees would want Clemens to pitch for their minor league affiliates while he gets his arm in game shape.

Clemens’s contract allows him some flexibility in his schedule, giving him the freedom to return to Houston on days he is not scheduled to pitch. The Yankees refused to do that last season, a stance that Cashman said disqualified the Yankees from signing him.

Players have since told Torre they would not object to special treatment for Clemens, who will have the same locker and uniform number, 22, he had before.

“I could care less,” Giambi said. “I’d carry his bags for him, just as long as he is on the mound.”

Clemens said he might not need as much time at home. His two oldest children have graduated high school, and his two younger sons seem to want him to be a Yankee again.

“They love Derek Jeter and A-Rod, so they’re as excited as ever that I’m back here in New York,” Clemens said. “I’m sure they’ll be pestering some of my teammates quite a bit.”


Paying Dearly in Desperation 


Published : May 7, 2007 / The New York Times

It’s Roger Clemens’s ball, and he can throw it wherever he wants. Beginning June 1, he’ll throw it for the Yankees.

This is the second time Clemens has engineered his way to the Yankees. He did it the first time in 1999. He had played for the Blue Jays for two years, winning his fourth and fifth Cy Young awards, but he wasn’t happy in Toronto and his agents orchestrated a trade to the Yankees.

This time he was a free agent. But just as he did last year, he said he wasn’t certain if he wanted to play. And as they did last year, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros let him know that if he wanted to play, they wanted him to play for them.

But of the three teams, the Yankees were the only one that was prepared to sign Clemens now. They would have preferred signing him yesterday — that is, not yesterday as in Sunday, but yesterday as in a month ago. That’s how desperate they have been to bolster their decimated pitching staff.

The Red Sox are not desperate for pitching; they have a pretty good starting rotation. They would have been happy to send Julián Tavárez back to the bullpen and give Clemens his spot in the rotation, but they are in first place and lead the Yankees by five and a half games. That position just might make them feel a little too good about themselves. Did someone say cocky?

I’m not suggesting their mind-set was “Who needs Roger Clemens?” but maybe they weren’t prepared to pay the price. They had, remember, paid $51 million for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, and maybe they just didn’t have a yen to pay for Clemens, too.

What the Yankees are paying Clemens raised eyebrows and sent heads shaking in baseball executive circles. “What?!” was one reaction. “Mind boggling” was another.

The Yankees will pay Clemens at the rate of $28 million a season, the highest single-season salary in baseball history. Alex Rodriguez’s contract calls for a salary of $27 million this year and each of the next three years.

Clemens, who signed a minor league contract to make it all legal, will go on the major league payroll when he makes his first start, which the Yankees expect to be June 1. That would give him 122 days in the majors, two-thirds of the season, which will translate into actual pay of $18,666,666.

Last year, the Astros paid him $12,262,294, based on a $22 million full-season salary. He made his first start for the Astros on June 22.

The Yankees were so desperate to sign Clemens that they were willing to pay a steep tax on his salary. With a luxury tax rate of 40 percent, the Yankees, who are already beyond the tax threshold, will pay nearly $7.5 million ($7,466,666, to be more precise) on the salary they pay Clemens, meaning the old guy will cost them $26 million.

But tax aside, the winner of this year’s Clemens sweepstakes was going to pay dearly for him. Clemens’s agents had talked to the interested clubs about an actual salary in the area of $16 million, which would have meant a season salary of about $24 million. The Yankees’ distress purchase cost them a few million more.

The money was worth it to the Yankees because Clemens will begin earlier than last season. The additional three weeks will mean an additional three starts.

Randy Hendricks, one of Clemens’ agents, said yesterday that he told all three contenders that Clemens wanted to begin pitching at the end of this month. After he spoke with the Red Sox and the Astros, Hendricks talked to Clemens about getting “ready to play now with the Yankees, or you’re going to have to delay it for another month.”

“He’s Roger Clemens,” Hendricks said at a news conference at Yankee Stadium. “From my point of view, when he says he’s ready to play, teams should listen.”

Hendricks said the Red Sox, given their position in the standings, had the luxury of waiting; the Astros wanted to follow last year’s timetable.

That left the Yankees, who — am I repeating myself? — wanted Clemens yesterday. They were so eager to get him that they agreed to allow him the same privileges he had with the Astros last year, the same privileges that the Yankees said last year they wouldn’t grant him.

If he is not scheduled to pitch on a trip, he doesn’t have to accompany the team. Special perks for special people. “He may be here sometimes and not be here sometimes,” General Manager Brian Cashman said. “We’ll be happy when he shows up every fifth day to pitch for us.”

In another time, the Clemens contract might have prompted Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox strategist-in-chief, to refer to the Yankees as the Evil Empire, but he already did that a few years ago. Furthermore, he wasn’t talking about Clemens yesterday.

“I personally will have no comment,” Lucchino said on his cellphone. But the Red Sox issued a statement.

“We met with Randy Hendricks earlier this week and, at Randy’s request, made an offer to Roger Clemens,” the statement said. “We offered a substantial salary and suggested, for health purposes, that Clemens return on approximately the same timetable as last year. Today, we learned from Randy that Clemens has signed elsewhere.”

The next time the Red Sox see Clemens could be June 1, when they play the Yankees at Fenway Park.

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