Roger Clemens and the late-winter trade

Open Thread: Hello, RJ
Arbitration Case: Boone Logan
Of all the dramatic things I've ever seen, Roger Clemens pitching on Opening Day in 1999 was not one of them. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

These days, Yankee fans have a relationship with Roger Clemens that could be described as tenuous at best. Our final memories of the Rocket include his early departure in Game 3 of the 2007 ALDS, a mediocre half season in the Bronx and Suzyn Waldman’s infamous histrionics on the day of his return to pinstripes. Today, Clemens’ pending perjury case may be pushing Andy Pettitte away from the Yanks, and no one wants to dwell on that sad state of affairs.

But Clemens’ first tenure in pinstripes was cause for celebration. He won an undeserved Cy Young Award and two World Series rings. He went 77-36 and was a key cog in the last years of the great Yankee Dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s. To top it off, the Yanks didn’t land Clemens until February 18, 1999, two days before pitchers and catchers were due in Tampa. How did it all go down?

The Yankees’ love for Roger Clemens started long before the winter after their 114-win season. After a 10-13 season in which he sported a 3.63 ERA and a 9.5 K/9 IP, Clemens was a free agent bound for greener pastures. The Red Sox didn’t want to pony up, and George Steinbrenner had his sights set on the Rocket. The Boss offered four years and $32 million while Clemens instead signed with Toronto for three years and $24.75 million (with an $8.1 million option). He received a higher average annual salary but signed for fewer guaranteed years to go to Toronto, and the Yanks signed David Wells instead.

After two seasons of spinning his wheels in Toronto, Clemens was tired of Canada. He won two Cy Young Awards and went 41-13 with a 2.40 ERA, but the Blue Jays finished in last in 1997 and in third, nearly 30 games behind the Yanks , in 1998. So he asked for a trade, and the Blue Jays were willing to oblige. Although the Rocket eventually rescinded that request, Toronto found a market and an opportunity to free up $9.85 million.

As with any big trade, this one did not come easy, and in fact, it dragged on for months. The Yankees were interested from the get-go; in fact, they were eyeing Clemens at the 1998 trade deadline. The price to land Clemens, however, was steep. In early December, as the Yanks were competing with the Rangers, the Rockies, the Tigers, the Indians and the Astros, the club seemed willing to trade Andy Pettitte to Toronto. The Blue Jays, though, wanted some package including some or all of Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza, Homer Bush, Mike Lowell and top prospect Alfonso Soriano.

In January, after Clemens withdrew his trade request — a request deemed to be against MLB rules anyway — talks stalled. The Yankees tried and failed to pry Curt Schilling away from the Phillies, but the Blue Jays kept lingering. And then, on the precipice of Spring Training, it all clicked. Toronto asked for David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd, and the Yanks pulled the trigger. New York and David Wells mourned David Wells’ exile from the Bronx, and up in Boston, Red Sox fans were quite blue as the Yanks landed their ace.

Today, we’re waiting for the Yanks to fill their holes. They’re not coming off a historic season or a World Series win. They fell two games short of the Fall Classic this past year and failed to land Cliff Lee last month. But the off-season isn’t over until Opening Day, and we’ve seen big trades happen on literally the last day of baseball’s winter. Until then, the 2011 Yankees are still just a work in progress.

Open Thread: Hello, RJ
Arbitration Case: Boone Logan
  • AndrewYF

    Clemens really sucked in ’99, but no one remembers because he pitched a good game in the postseason and the Yankees won it all yet again. Not that Clemens really had all that much to do with it.

    • steve (different one)

      “really sucked” in terms of Roger Clemens. in terms of all MLB pitchers, he was still pretty good.

      3.1 WAR is nothing to take for granted, and I believe he battled groin issues that year. of course, he was coming off 2 consecutive CY’s, so of course it was a disappointment, but it’s not like he wasn’t an asset.

  • Carlosologist

    My only (faded) memory of the Rocket is this game:

    My dad tells me I was mad at him for taking me to such a short game.

  • AndrewYF

    Out of context, this sounds horrible:

    ”No, Gord,” Cashman countered. ”If you’ve got something in mind, then make me an offer.”

    Ash’s response ”made my knees buckle,”

    • Mister Delaware

      ”It looks like we’re going to get a second chance with the Yankees,” Clemens told his wife, Debra, and he pumped a fist happily.

      Whole article is written funny.

  • Benjamin Kabak

    I couldn’t fit this observation into the post, but the lede from Buster Olney’s story about the trade is something to behold:

    In their most significant deal since the purchase of Babe Ruth 79 years ago, the Yankees traded today for Roger Clemens, regarded as perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era. The Yankees won the World Series and a record 125 games in 1998, and now with Clemens they may be even better in 1999.

    Hyperbole much?

  • Kiersten

    I remember not understanding why the Yankees would trade David Wells after he pitched a perfect game. I also didn’t know who this Roger Clemens guy was and didn’t understand why my mom hated him. Oh to be 11…

  • DareBear

    My biggest memory of Roger Clemens was being excited to see him pitch in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I remember getting the tickets last-minute. He choked pretty badly, but the Yankees won anyway!

  • kosmo

    Clemens in the 2000 postseason vs. Seattle and NY .I never saw a more dominant game as he pitched against Seattle and an almost equally dominant game against the Mets in the WS. Outside of the bat throwing incident in the WS he wasn´t that much of a jerk in pinstripes.
    Clemens 2001 WS perfomance wasn´t to shabby either.

    • mbonzo

      Its almost 99% of my Yankees bias but I can understand Clemens’ in throwing the bat away. First off, he was always a highly emotional pitcher, he was pitching in the World Series, and now we know he was on steroids. (roid rage) When you’re a pitcher and have to field so close to a batter, reaction is more of a fight or flight mechanism. If something is flying at you, you catch it. Chances are that he was telling the truth and he really couldn’t tell if it was the bat or ball. The bats going about 60 mph and you’re only 60 feet away. Someone in the right state of mind would lightly toss it away from the field of play to avoid anyone from getting hurt. If you throw it at the opposing bench, that looks bad, if you throw it at your bench you might hit the runner.

      I can totally understand Clemens, in a fight or flight mode, in one of the biggest games of his career, and most likely raging with steroids, throwing the bat as hard as he could away from him in that circumstance. Its like being slapped in the face, you immediately become aggressive. If Clemens wanted to fight Piazza, he had his chance when he confronted him. Instead he ignored him. I think it was just a dumb decision by frantic and emotionally charged player. If I was in that situation I would have apologized though, so he’s an asshole for not apologizing.

  • Andrew

    Can someone explain to me how Clemens’s ’01 Cy was undeserved? I’ve been trying to find articles elaborating on this probable fact and am coming up empty. I know Moose had a WAR around 6.5 so would it be him or would it be Joe Mays of the Twins, who also posted an excellent year? (145 ERA+, 5.9 WAR)

    • mbonzo

      I don’t think its as bad of a mess up as some of the other awards, but Mussina should have won that year. Moose had a 5.1 SO/BB ratio, 1.067 WHIP, and 3 SHO. Mays had a higher WHIP, much lower strike outs, and walked more. Mussina was incredibly dominant. If he had the same run support as Clemens in 2001, he could have won 25 games.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Mussina had more innings, more strikeouts, fewer walks, gave up fewer hits/runs, lower ERA, lower FIP, higher bWAR, higher fWAR…

    • bexarama

      It’s not like it was horrendous – Clemens was excellent in 2001. Just, Moose was better.

      Moose had:
      – a lower ERA
      – a lower FIP (2nd lowest FIP in baseball to God-mode Randy Johnson)
      – more innings pitched
      – many, many fewer walks
      – he had only one more strikeout than Clemens which is made up for by the innings pitched thing, but because of his many fewer walks he had a better K/BB ratio
      – a lower WHIP
      – CG are meh, but Moose had 4 CG/3 SHO to Roger’s none
      – and he had a higher bWAR by over a full win too.

      But Clemens went 20-1 to begin the year so Clemens got 122 votes and Moose got two.

      • AJ

        Clemens went 20-3, Mussina went 17-11. Case closed. Sincerely, Mike Francesa.

  • Yank the Frank

    Clemens could have came to the Yanks in 1997 but was afraid NY would not be good for his family. If he came then there was a good chance we would have won in 1997 also. When he realized that he wouldn’t win in Toronto and the Yanks were looking like they would be making a run, NY didn’t seem so bad. Never liked the guy. His roid rage at Piazza was his only redeeming quality.

    • Luis Sojo the Pasta Eating Machine

      Agreed. I never warmed up to him either.

      Anyone remember the first retirement from the Yankees? I think the Yanks gave him a yellow hummer or something absolutely ridiculous… then he signed with the Astros!

      And don’t even get me started on that horrendous second stint!

  • JZ

    I dreamed last night I went to a Yankee game and they were celebrating Mussina’s last game in Pinstripes. I bumped into him in the parking lot and he was super-cool, only he now had long hair. Slightly weird, but good dream. Still hate Clemens, though.

  • Jerome S.

    Why does no one talk about the 99 Yankees? They must’ve been good. They won the world series. I literally know nothing about them.

    • Andrew

      It is weird, that team is sort of lost in the shuffle. 98 stands out as the historic winner, 2000 was the ‘how did they lose every game in September and still win the WS?’ team. ’99 was Jeter and Bernie having huge years, plus a really solid 5 man rotation that pretty much never missed their starts.

    • CS Yankee

      FWIW, my views…

      ’96 was redemption, 18 long years of a drought, beating the Braves after the first two games (MSM compared the Braves to the ’27 Yanks after g2).

      ’97 didn’t feel right…Mo’s first year as a closer

      ’98 seemed like they would win every game…it felt like they would win it all in ST; by June you would bet your last nickel.

      ’99 still a great team, pitching didn’t seem as strong and MSM again with whoever wins (Braves) would be the team of the decade as NY had two rings to the Braves one (but 2-3 more visits). They crushed them Braves…Bernie, Paulie, sada & Jete’.

      ’00 was decent as one should never lose to the Mets in a WS (except Boston), Clemens had a good year but it was the beginning of the end.

      ’01 was like ’96, the talent was against the Yankees…bad relief almost won it for us, but luck took the other route.

      • bexarama

        ’98 seemed like they would win every game…it felt like they would win it all in ST

        The ’98 Yankees went a not-particularly-spectacular 15-12 in ST.

        • CS Yankee

          I never pay attention to ST wins/loss column…I was guilty in ST 2010 for having the same feeling.

          (hangs head in shame)

          • bexarama

            Heh, fair. I don’t remember that off the top of my head, BTW, I was reading about it last night so I was able to bring it up here.

  • Dr. O

    At the risk of sounding like some Clemens fanboy (which trust me I am most certainly not), I don’t like the approach the organization is taking with him which basically amounts to pretending he never existed. I felt the same way when after Bonds’ last year the Giants took down his mural and kind of wiped the place clean of his image, although they changed that over the last 2 years. I don’t think any fan is saying what these guys did, if they did in fact do it, was right, but their accomplishments and service to their teams doesn’t become any less significant. I may remember way more “WTF Roger?!” moments, but there were still plenty of nights where I watched in awe seeing the guy pitch in pinstripes. Also lets face it, no one else seems to have any shame about still worshipping their tainted heroes, like a certain “center of the sports world but still just a blue collar small market town” in Mass.

  • bakekrukow412