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Pinstripes for the Rocket
Yankees acquire Clemens from Jays for Wells, Lloyd, Bush
Posted: Thursday February 18, 1999 09:52 PM
Even if it meant giving up David Wells.
Even if it meant disrupting the record-setting team that won 125 games last year and the World Series.
Especially if it meant getting the only five-time Cy Young award winner in the history of baseball.
"I always coveted Roger Clemens for the Yankees and New York," owner George Steinbrenner said Thursday after obtaining Clemens from Toronto in exchange for Wells, reliever Graeme Lloyd and second baseman Homer Bush.
"We've got a group of warriors here and we're getting a very big warrior," Steinbrenner said. "He's a monster. He's just, 'Give me the ball' -- a real competitor."
As for Wells, he left the Yankees' first day of spring training in tears after speaking with Steinbrenner and manager Joe Torre.
"I'm a little emotional right now," Wells said. "Give me a couple days. It's a little tough right now."
New York and Toronto actually completed the deal late Wednesday night, but delayed the announcement to tell Wells in person.
"He took it like a real man. He took it better than I took it," Steinbrenner said.
"Boomer," as the 35-year-old left-hander is known throughout the Bronx and beyond, has been the toast of New York since pitching a perfect game against Minnesota at Yankee Stadium on May 17. He's coming off the best season of his career, 18-4 with a 3.49 ERA.
Mr. Perfection was also Mr. Personality, as far as Yankee fans were concerned. They loved his loud mouth and his loud music -- Metallica was a favorite. They loved his beer belly and the way he loved The Babe.
"There's going to be a lot of bars going out of business in New York," Yankees pitcher David Cone said. "He almost became a cult hero overnight. Last year with the perfect game, he made his mark in Yankees history. He can be proud of that. He won't be forgotten."
But even Cone knew some fans would surely be upset.
"I'm sure there are mixed emotions among the fans," he said. "[But] as soon as Rocket throws his first 15-strikeout night at Yankee Stadium, people will be oohing and wowing, saying, 'What a catch!' "
Clemens was as speechless as Wells, for different reasons.
"I'm just trying to catch my breath after last night's and this morning's events," he said during a telephone conference call from Houston.
"They are the champions," said the 36-year-old right-hander, who has never won a Series ring. "I just want to slide in the side door and go to work with these guys and hopefully fit right in."
He'll have to settle for No. 12 with the Yankees because No. 21 already belongs to Paul O'Neill.
And, so far, he's hitting it off just fine with "Mr. Steinbrenner."
"I met my match in a guy who wants to win," Clemens said. "This guy, he settles for nothing less. I enjoy that."
Clemens is owed $16.1 million during the final two years of his contract and has the right to demand a trade following this season's World Series. However, he doesn't expect that to become an issue.
While stressing that he appreciates a second chance to join New York, Clemens didn't second-guess choosing Toronto over the Yankees in 1996.
"It worked out for me," he said. "It didn't work out for the team. We didn't win. That's the bottom line."
With a 233-124 career record, Clemens went 20-6 last season while leading the American League in ERA (2.65), strikeouts (271) and tying for the lead in wins. He led in all three categories in 1997.
Though he won consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Blue Jays, he wanted out after the team's Belgium owner, Interbrew SA, decided not to compete with baseball's big spenders this year.
Houston and Texas were still bidding for Clemens this week, but the deal with the Yankees came together after Toronto dropped its insistence on obtaining 21-year-old shortstop Alfonso Soriano.
"He's a horse, and he's now our horse," New York general manager Brian Cashman said. "We're betting on him."
The deal was announced as Wells and his Yankee teammates were just settling into their 7 1/2-week spring stay at Legends Field. Until Thursday, the Yankees had retained 24 of the 25 players who helped them win a second World Series title in three seasons, dropping only outfielder Tim Raines.
The Yankees set an AL record for wins last year, going 114-48 in the regular season. New York then went 11-2 in the postseason, including a Series sweep of San Diego.
"This is a tremendous thing -- hopefully to get back again. Not that we wouldn't have that chance anyway. But it might improve our chances," Steinbrenner said.
Wells, 124-84 in his career with a 3.96 ERA, returns to his first major league team. He was with the Blue Jays from 1987-92 before he was released and moved on to Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore and the Yankees -- who signed him only after losing to Toronto in the bidding for Clemens.
"I think he's matured somewhat since he was with us the last time," Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash said. "His experiences in other situations have made him a better pitcher. He's a smarter pitcher now."
For the Yankees, the trade takes away two left-handers, traditionally the key to success in Yankee Stadium. But New York didn't lose prized prospects.
"I just didn't want to give up all our young talent. It's different than the old days," Steinbrenner said. "Twenty years ago I might have said: 'I don't care who we give up.' I'm smarter now -- a little bit smarter."
Bush, a 26-year-old infielder who plays primarily at second base, was voted the top Yankees rookie in spring training last year. He hit .380 in 71 at-bats for New York but was considered expendable because of Chuck Knoblauch.
Lloyd, a 31-year-old left-hander from Australia, was 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 50 relief appearances last year. He combined with Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Darren Holmes and Ramiro Mendoza to form perhaps the best middle relief corps in baseball.
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