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)
"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.