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Booster Rocket
Gerry Callahan
March 01, 1999
While baseball went ballistic, the already formidable Yankees may have locked in another World Series berth by landing Cy Young winner Roger Clemens
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March 01, 1999

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

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Catfish Hunter, A's


25-12, 2.49 ERA

23-14, 2.58 ERA, second in Cy Young voting with Yankees

Mark Davis, Padres


44 saves, 1.85 ERA

6 saves, 5.11 ERA with Royals

Greg Maddux, Cubs


20-11, 2.18 ERA

20-10, 2.36 ERA, won Cy Young with Braves

David Cone, Royals


16-5, 2.94 ERA

18-8, 3.57 ERA, fourth in Cy Young voting with Blue Jays and Yankees

Pedro Martinez, Expos


17-8, 1.90 ERA

19-7, 2.89 ERA, second in Cy Young voting with Red Sox

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 resigned), 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 Mario'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."

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