Yankees Mega Deal For 'The Rocket' An Aberration
By John J. Buro
From Roger Clemens' point of view, a return to the New York Yankees became imminent when both the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros decided to wait a little longer before beginning their purasuit.
Clemens didn't want to wait -at least, not as long as last summer. Then, he signed with Houston as a free agent on May 31. But, since bolting from the Yankees in November, 2003, following their World Series loss to the Florida Marlins, the powerful righthander has been granted free agency in each of the previous four years.
'The Rocket' -1,110 strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan for the most ever in Major League Baseball- will celebrate his 45th birthday in August. Last season, his lengthy delay resulted in a 19-game stint [7-6, 2.30 ERA, 102 strikeouts in slightly better than 113 innings], as he failed to start a minimum of 29 games for the first time since 1995.
Now, Clemens will be back for the final four months of New York's regular season, which began with a 9-13 April, at a prorated cost of $28 million. The math places his particular contract in the $18 million range, which equates to one million per week before the postseason begins. But, when the 40% luxury tax is factored in, another $7 million is added to the ledger.
"You got me out of Texas," he told 52,553 delirious fans from George Steinbrenner's private box during the seventh-inning stretch of Sunday's matinee against the Seattle Mariners. "I can tell you it's a privilege to be back. I'll be talking to you all soon." There was a series of fist pumps, and the message, 'Roger Clemens is now a Yankee!' on the scoreboard for anyone who may not have heard the personalized message.
By the first 30 games of the season, New York had already zipped through ten different starting pitchers. Thus, on a staff held together by bandages, Clemens - who won 38 of 56 decisions in the National League- should be able to help.
"This is a huge statement," Brian Cashman, the Yankees' GM, gushed afterward. "Don't count us out because we want to be in it for the long haul -and we'll do everything to stay in it."
During spring training, when New York's pitching staff was questioned, management had budgeted $25.5 million for this very opportunity.
It is okay for them to think of this as just another property on a Monopoly board.
But, for all the excitement the Yankees have created as the first billion dollar franchise in professional sports, it should also be noted that they were also the only MLB franchise to lose money last season.
As New York's payroll now exceeds a staggering $207.6 million, the GM has conveniently forgotten other statements that could have been made. Statements that wouldn't have cost nearly as much, and would have provided greater examples of what the organization is all about.
It is fine to acquire a player of Clemens' stature [a lifetime record of 348-173 and 3.10 ERA, with an unprecedented seven Cy Young Awards, including a mark of 77-36 and two championships during his earlier tenure in the Bronx] even in his advanced years and at the heavily-inflated price that the Hendricks Brothers had negotiated.
First and foremost, Clemens is an entertainer and his salary should not be capped. And, if the pitcher's stance with regard to not traveling with the team is livable, and doesn't set off a mutiny among the other veteran players, it is even better.
But, one should never kowtow before acknowledging players who were responsible for their last four Series triumphs. Here, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams are far more relevant than Clemens. They have been with this organization for their entire careers. They are the exact opposites of a baseball mercenary.
Rivera and Williams, each of whom carry indelible resumes, have done as much to uphold the pride and tradition as anyone in the team's storied history. Rivera, the greatest reliever the game has ever seen, was seeking a contract extension beyond this season.
Williams, among the franchise's best in several offensive categories, was seeking a guaranteed roster spot; the team, citing a lack of room largely because they require three first basemen, offered an invite to spring training, and nothing more. Thus, the requests of both men were promptly denied. This is how their loyalty was rewarded.
While it seems that such pride and tradition only matter when the discussion relates to winning a World Series, one thing was evident last Sunday. Clemens' expected contributions to a 10th consecutive American League East title, and possibly more, warranted the Yankees' immediate attention.
As Rivera and Williams bide their time, the pitcher and his new team approached the launching pad with great enthusiasm and, sometime in June, will blast off on yet another mission.