Clemens goes home but stays on mound

Pushing retirement aside, pitcher agrees to 1-year, $5 million deal with Astros

January 13, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Roger Clemens went home after the 2003 World Series, pondered retirement for 2 1/2 months and came to this not-so-stunning conclusion:

Cooperstown can wait.

The 41-year-old right-hander agreed yesterday to a one-year contract with his hometown Houston Astros, extending a spectacular career that almost certainly will gain him induction into baseball's Hall of Fame five years after he really retires.

His return was not a major surprise. Clemens clearly still had the competitive fire to continue pitching, but he openly yearned to spend more time with his wife and four sons. The Astros provided him with the opportunity to do both, and reunited him with close friend and former New York Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte in a dynamically upgraded starting rotation.

The deal calls for Clemens to earn $5 million for the 2004 season, but $3.5 million of it is deferred, so this clearly was not about the money. Clemens could have commanded three times that if he had decided to stay for one more year with the Yankees. Instead, he could get an extra $1.4 million in incentive money based on the Astros' attendance next season.

"It's great to come home," Clemens said during an afternoon news conference. "I have the opportunity to work and have a great deal of fun here at home."

Clemens had given every indication he was going to retire after his fifth season with New York, and he seemed to confirm that after he made his final appearance for the Yankees in Game 4 of the World Series. But he left open the possibility of continuing his career when he filed for free agency in November. If he had not done that, the Yankees could have retained his rights by offering him salary arbitration this month.

"Roger Clemens was a great warrior for the Yankees - a teacher and a leader," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "He told the world he was retiring, and we had no choice but to believe him."

New Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli, who was a member of the Yankees coaching staff last year, did not seem surprised Clemens decided to delay retirement, but he said he could identify with the emotional tug-of-war that a player goes through as his career draws to a close.

"It's a hard question to answer unless you've been in that situation and had that competitive fire in you," Mazzilli said. "It's hard to let it go. Knowing him, I know what kind of competitor he is. He feels that he still has enough left in the tank.

"He's a good man. He won 17 games last year. He's going to be good for them."

Clemens, a six-time Cy Young Award winner with the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Yankees, jumps to the National League with 310 career victories. He ranks third in major league history - behind Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton - with 4,099 strikeouts.

"It's a great thing for Houston and, frankly, Roger has earned the right to do whatever he wants to," baseball commissioner Bud Selig told the Associated Press.

The Astros finished one game behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central last year, and they have added two top starting pitchers. Clemens was 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA and 190 strikeouts in his 20th major league season. Pettitte was 21-8 with a 4.02 ERA.

"His charisma, character, credibility is all going to take this franchise to a new level," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said.

Clemens and Pettitte will join solid young starters Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller to create one of the deepest rotations in the National League. The Yankees, meanwhile, have lost three front-line starters to free agency, but have responded by acquiring emerging star Javier Vazquez from the Montreal Expos and veteran Kevin Brown from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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