Decision time for Roger Clemens came Thursday night. His agents had finished negotiating a deal with the Houston Astros that would make him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. All that was left was one small question he had been putting off since November: Did Clemens want to pitch again? Pressed for an answer, he spent two hours on the phone with family, friends and teammates, before arriving at his answer: Yes.
With that, Clemens and the Astros completed the historic contract. Clemens, 42, will return to the Astros in 2005 for a salary of $18 million.
Roger Clemens and the Astros agree to an $18 million, one-year contract -- the highest salary for a pitcher in baseball history.
(Pat Sullivan - AP)
_____ Roger Clemens _____ • Born: April 8 1962
• 1983: Pitches University of Texas to victory in final game of the College World Series. Finishes college career with a 25-7 record.
• 1984: Makes his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox. Goes 9-4 in first season with a 4.32 ERA.
• 1986: Has his first 20-win season, posting a 24-4 record with a 2.48 ERA, helping the Red Sox to the American League (AL) pennant, before losing to the New York Mets in the World Series.
• 1986: Wins his first Cy Young Award as league's best pitcher. Also voted AL Most Valuable Player.
• 1987: Misses most of spring training over a contract dispute and despite a slow start to the season (4-6 in his first 13 starts) he went 16-3 in his final 23 starts to post a 20-9 record. Wins his second Cy Young award.
• 1988: Leads the majors in strikeouts with 291, the most by a Red Sox pitcher in posting an 18-12 record.
• 1990: Has a 21-6 record with a league-leading 1.93 ERA in 31 starts.
• 1991: Wins third Cy Young award.
• 1996: Files for free agency at end of season and joins Toronto Blue Jays on a three-year $24.75 million contract.
• 1997: Wins his fourth Cy Young award with a 21-7 record and 2.05 ERA. Becomes the first AL pitcher since 1945 to win pitching's Triple Crown by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts (292).
• 1998: Wins his fifth Cy Young award and repeats Triple Crown.
• 1999: Traded to the New York Yankees. Struggles with injury throughout the year and posts a 14-10 record. Aged 37 years two months, he wins his first game in the World Series -- the decider in a 4-0 series sweep over Atlanta.
• 2000: Posts a 13-8 record for the Yankees though is plagued by on-field controversy when he hits Mets catcher Mike Piazza in the head with a pitch in an inter-league game.
• 2000: The controversy continues in Game 2 of the World Series when Piazza shattered his bat on a pitch from Clemens, who then threw the broken barrel back at the catcher forcing a standoff between the pair. Clemens was fined $50,000.
• 2001: Becomes first player to win sixth Cy Young with a 20-3 record -- his sixth season of 20 or more wins.
• 2003 (June 13): Posts his 300th career win, the 21st player to do so, in a 5-2 victory over the St Louis Cardinals. Also records his 4000th strikeout, only the third player to achieve the mark.
• 2003: Announces he will retire after World Series against Florida Marlins, and is given a standing ovation after his final out, in Game Four of the 4-2 series loss.
• 2004: Agrees to a $5 million one-year contract with Houston Astros, his hometown team. Posts a 18-4 record, winning his seventh Cy Young Award, though the team fails to make their first World Series when they lose to St Louis Cardinals in the seventh game of the National League Championship series.
• 2005 (Jan. 19): Files a $22 million salary arbitration request.
• 2005 (Jan. 21): Signs an $18 million one-year contract with the Astros, making him the highest paid pitcher in major league history.
"Here we go again," Clemens said at a news conference yesterday in Houston. "I've got to go get ready to play again."
Exactly three months after the Astros were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series -- one win shy of a World Series berth -- the franchise salvaged what had been to this point a miserable offseason and recast itself as a contender again in 2005.
"We've got to move forward, and I'm fired up for next season," owner Drayton McLane said. "Bring on the Cardinals!"
When Clemens came out of retirement to pitch for his hometown Astros in 2004, he did so at the cut-rate price of $5 million. But after winning 18 games and a record seventh Cy Young Award last season, while accounting for a large part of the 26 percent rise in the team's attendance, Clemens clearly was not going to pitch for the same hometown discount in 2005, if he was going to pitch at all.
Earlier this week, Alan and Randy Hendricks, Clemens's agents since he came out of the University of Texas at the age of 21, shocked the industry by submitting a salary figure of $22 million in arbitration filings, while the team's figure was $13.5 million. The sides ultimately met just north of the midpoint.
"I kind of sat back," Clemens said, "and laughed at the numbers."
Clemens's 2005 salary will eclipse by $500,000 that of Pedro Martinez's last season, previously the highest for a pitcher. Overall, he will be the fourth-highest-paid player in baseball, in terms of average annual salary, behind Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter.
Only a few months ago, Clemens sounded like a man who had had enough, following 21 years in the majors, including two World Series titles with the New York Yankees and a sentimental ending with his hometown team. He told reporters shortly after accepting his seventh Cy Young that he was "99 percent" sure he was retiring.
The Astros certainly did not do anything this offseason to make an aging star want to play another season. They lost second baseman Jeff Kent, a possible Hall of Famer, to the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency, then bungled their negotiations with center fielder Carlos Beltran, losing him to the New York Mets. Meantime, slugging outfielder Lance Berkman tore up his knee playing pickup football, leaving his 2005 season in doubt.
But Clemens never completely gave up on the idea of coming back, and when the Hendricks brothers called him on Thursday to tell him he needed to make a decision, he took to the phone and did just that. He spoke to Andy Pettitte, the veteran lefty who convinced Clemens to come to Houston with him a year ago, then missed most of the season with an elbow injury.
"We never really got a chance to compete together," Clemens said later.
And he spoke to his wife, his four sons, his mother, his siblings. "My brothers and sisters wanted me to go out on top," he said. "Well, we didn't go out on top [last season]."
Ultimately, Clemens cited something his oldest son, 18-year-old Koby, said that stuck with him: "Just remember what it sounded like here, Dad, when you took the mound."
Come April, Clemens will no longer have to remember.