Booster Rocket While baseball went ballistic, the already formidable Yankees may have locked in another World Series berth by landing Cy Young winner Roger Clemens

March 01, 1999

George Steinbrenner took about 30 of his underlings and advisers
to dinner at Malio's Steakhouse in Tampa on Wednesday of last
week, and for a change no one told him what he wanted to hear.
Sitting on the table was a trade, a big one, involving an
exchange of aces, one of whom is among the greatest pitchers in
the history of the game. The purpose of the party: to pick the
deal apart like a plate of nachos.

Before he pulled the trigger, Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees
principal owner, wanted his people to step back and discuss the
potential blockbuster from all angles, but the exercise proved
futile. It was like a father asking his kids whether they should
get a new puppy. The guys did everything but spell out CLEMENS
with their body parts, like the Village People doing YMCA. Not
even Costanza could find a problem with the trade.

"It was unanimous," says 31-year-old Yankees general manager
Brian Cashman. "No one could come up with a reason not to make
the deal."

That's because there was no reason for the Yankees not to make
the deal. When they sent lefthanders David Wells and Graeme
Lloyd and second baseman Homer Bush to the Toronto Blue Jays on
Thursday for five-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, the
Yankees did more than upgrade the defending World Series
champion and arguably the best team ever. They proved that there
are still a few people in sports who are motivated by the simple
desire to win and who are willing to do whatever it takes.

Baseball fans across the country can continue to hate the
Yankees, but they've got to hand it to them: The Yanks aren't
just hoping to medal. They're going for the gold--this year, next
year, always. "I definitely met my match with Mr. Steinbrenner,"
says Clemens. "He's someone who wants to win as bad as I do."

In 1998 the Yankees won 125 games and their second World Series
in three years. At the start of last week, the plan was to bring
to camp 24 of the 25 players from last year's team (all but
outfielder Tim Raines, 39, a free agent who was not re-signed),
and everyone, everywhere, was picking them to win it all again.
When Toronto general manager Gord Ash contacted Cashman last
week and expressed a desire to quickly unload Clemens--who had
been seeking a trade since the end of last season--no one would
have blamed the Yankees G.M. if he had treated the call like a
vinyl-siding sales pitch. His team was most definitely not
broke. Why fix it? Why even consider it?

"Because that trophy we won last year has got rust on it now,
and everyone is gearing up to take the championship away," says
Cashman. "Baltimore's better. Cleveland's better. We had to get
better."

So Cashman told Ash to give him the names of the players the
Blue Jays wanted in return. Ash asked for Lloyd, a short-relief
specialist; Bush, who was playing behind Chuck Knoblauch and had
no shot of becoming a starter in New York anytime soon; and
Wells, the eccentric lefthander who will turn 36 in May and who,
some members of the Yankees' organization suspected, was due to
return to earth after his '98 season in the stars (18-4, 3.49
ERA and a perfect game).

When Cashman heard the names, it "made my knees buckle," he says.
The Yankees had been talking to the Blue Jays for months about
Clemens, but this was by far the most attractive package to
Cashman. He ran it by Steinbrenner, who was reluctant to give up
on Wells, a folk hero in New York and one of the owner's
favorites. But then the Pinstriped Politburo met at Malio's, and
most of Steinbrenner's people had more trouble deciding on a
salad dressing than on whether to make the trade.

Cashman called Ash at 11:42 that Wednesday night and told him
they had a deal. Roger Clemens was a Yankee. A championship team
without a sure Hall of Famer had added a sure Hall of Famer
without a championship. Along with a 97-mph fastball, a nasty
slider and a forkball that is almost unfair, Clemens, 36, brings
an old-style attitude to the Bronx that will make the swaggering
Yankees even more intimidating. "He's one of those guys you hate
when he's on the other team just because of the way he carries
himself," says righthanded reliever Jeff Nelson. "If you saw a
rookie get a hit off him, you knew [the kid] was getting drilled
the next time up."

Of course, when Clemens reported to Legends Field in Tampa two
days after the trade, some of the players he had drilled in the
past were waiting for him. Shortstop Derek Jeter, who twice was
on the painful end of a Clemens purpose pitch last season, had
the same reaction as many of Clemens's new teammates: He welcomed
his old nemesis into the family. "No one is happy when they're
getting thrown at," says Jeter. "I wasn't happy about it, but
it's over with."

"He's not just a pitcher," says Cashman. "He's an animal. And
he's our animal now."

It's Heidi Klum getting a tummy tuck or ER adding Brad Pitt to
the cast. Can the best get better? Well, the Yankees can try,
and their rivals for the pennant and at the box
office--especially the Boston Red Sox, for whom Clemens had
played 13 seasons, and the crosstown New York Mets--can only
look on with awe and envy (page 40). "He's not the ace of our
staff, he's the ace of the league," says Yankees righthander
David Cone. "We gave up the best lefthander in the league, and
that's important in Yankee Stadium. But we add the best pitcher
in the game. How can you turn that down?"

Clemens won the Cy Young in each of his two years in Toronto,
with a combined record of 41-13 and a 2.33 ERA. His five Cy
Youngs amount to one more than Yankees pitchers have won in the
43-year history of the award. Last season he led the Blue Jays
to 88 wins and a surprising late-season run at the wild card.
Still, when he decided Toronto didn't have a credible shot at
contending this year, he demanded a trade, his right under a
secret side agreement to the December 1996 free-agent contract
he signed with Toronto--a deal agreed to by then Blue Jays
president Paul Beeston, who is now the president of Major League
Baseball.

Before accepting Toronto's four-year, $31.1 million deal
(including a staggering $9.75 million signing bonus and that
side agreement), Clemens had rejected his other strong suitor,
the Yankees, saying he didn't want to move his family to New
York. "I made a mistake once, but hopefully not twice," he said
last week.

Steinbrenner offered Clemens another chance to prove that he is
sincere in his quest to win a ring, and in agreeing to the trade
Clemens jumped at the opportunity. "I've had a great deal of
success individually, but I haven't done it collectively," said
Clemens, who has pitched in only one World Series, with the Red
Sox in '86. The Yankees have said they will consider giving
Clemens a contract extension--last week they denied that they
had already done so--but it probably won't include clauses for
private planes for his family or premium season tickets (as did
free-agent righthander Kevin Brown's $105 million deal with the
Dodgers). "He is a Yankee," says Steinbrenner. "He will obey the
Yankee rules."

The perks will come on the field. Clemens will now be supported
by the best defense, the best setup corps (righthanders Nelson
and Ramiro Mendoza, and lefthander Mike Stanton) and the best
closer (righthander Mariano Rivera) he has ever had. He may even
get improved support over the 4.99 runs per nine innings the
Blue Jays provided in his 33 starts last year; by contrast, the
Yankees supported Wells with 6.84 runs and Cone with 6.89.
Moreover Clemens averaged almost 250 innings in his two seasons
in Toronto, a workload Yankees manager Joe Torre is not likely
to place on him. New York's deep bullpen could ensure a strong
and well-rested Rocket in the postseason and might even prolong
his career. "It would be nice to stay fresh into August and
September," says Clemens, who didn't exactly run out of gas last
season. He went his final 22 starts without a loss.

Clemens's acquisition leaves the Yankees with only one
lefthander, Andy Pettitte, in the starting rotation, which might
be a problem if Clemens were a mere mortal righthander. But last
season lefthanded batters hit .197 against Clemens, one point
lower than righties did. (By comparison, lefties hit .245
against Wells.)

Barring a Yankees collapse that would be even more historic than
last season's triumph, Clemens this year should get his first
taste of the playoffs since '95. "I thought it would be easy to
get to postseason play because I did it a lot early in my
career," says Clemens. He reached the postseason four times with
the Red Sox but in nine starts was 1-2 with a 3.88 ERA.

You have to figure the Yankees would enter the postseason
expecting heroics from Clemens, but it would be hard for them to
feel more confident than they did when Wells took the ball in
October. The Rocket may be the best pitcher in the game, but
it's easy to argue that Boomer is the best money pitcher. In 10
career postseason starts, Wells is a remarkable 8-1 with a 2.74
ERA. His hard-partying, heavy-metal image may obscure the fact
that when he takes the mound on a crisp autumn evening, Wells is
pure warrior.

So there you go, a reasonable question for the Yankees
concerning a trade that has gotten better reviews than
Shakespeare in Love. Why give up an established postseason
performer for a guy who, as great as he is, has yet to prove
himself in October? The answer: The Yankees quietly suspected
that Wells was losing more than just his hair. Boomer's approach
to conditioning was also a constant concern, a stark contrast to
the fitness regime of Clemens, who brings the same maniacal
passion to the weight room that he does to the mound.

Wells reportedly threw at the Yankees' complex in Tampa two
weeks ago, but had to stop after 15 tosses because of pain in
his back. Says Cone, who was Wells's best friend on the team,
"There's no question that part of the thinking was, How much
does Boomer have left?"

The Yankees are also wondering how much Cone has left. The
13-year veteran and one-time Cy Young winner is eight months
younger than Clemens but had shoulder surgery two years ago. In
the final four months of last season, his ERA more than doubled
(1.57 to 3.79) when he pitched on four days rest as opposed to
five or more. "We're all concerned [about Cone's arm]," says
Torre. "He's still our leader, but I think the presence of
Clemens will signify to Coney that we don't have to rely quite
as much on him as we once did."

On the other end of the deal, the wild man could mean the wild
card for the Blue Jays. After the trade Ash spoke with Wells,
who told his new boss, "Start me against Clemens and the
Yankees, and I'll kick their butt." Reflecting on a pitching
staff that had no regular southpaw starters last year, Ash says,
"We have a balance in the rotation now that we haven't had."

The Jays also got a potential spark plug in Bush, 26, who batted
.380 in 71 at bats last year. Bush confidently predicts that if
he gets 500 at bats, he'll hit .290 with five to 10 homers, 60
to 70 RBIs and 40 to 50 stolen bases. "I like how we match up
with New York," he says. "Pitching is their strength and ours."

Of course, the Yankees' strength just got a whole lot stronger.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER COVER Chin Music The Yankees get Roger Clemens and strike fear through the rest of baseball COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON FRESH EYE Torre (right) and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will call on a deep bullpen to keep Clemens strong for the playoffs. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON GOOD HOP Stuck behind Knoblauch in New York, new Blue Jays second baseman Bush says that if he gets 500 at bats, he'll hit .290. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON "Start me against Clemens and the Yankees, and I'll kick their butt," said Wells.

CY YOU LATER

With his trade last week from the Blue Jays to the Yankees,
Roger Clemens became the seventh Cy Young Award winner to depart
his team following the season. Sandy Koufax, the winner in 1966,
retired immediately thereafter. Here's how the others fared with
their new clubs. --David Sabino

PLAYER, TEAM CY YOUNG RECORD PERFORMANCE THE
YEAR NEXT SEASON

Catfish Hunter, A's 1974 25-12, 2.49 ERA 23-14, 2.58 ERA,
second in Cy Young
voting with Yankees

Mark Davis, Padres 1989 44 saves, 1.85 ERA 6 saves, 5.11 ERA
with Royals

Greg Maddux, Cubs 1992 20-11, 2.18 ERA 20-10, 2.36 ERA,
won Cy Young with
Braves

David Cone, Royals 1994 16-5, 2.94 ERA 18-8, 3.57 ERA,
fourth in Cy Young
voting with Blue
Jays and Yankees

Pedro Martinez, Expos 1997 17-8, 1.90 ERA 19-7, 2.89 ERA,
second in Cy Young
voting with Red Sox

"We add the best pitcher in the game," says Cone. "How can you
turn that down?"

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)