A year ago this time Roger Clemens was retired, content to join his family in Texas while resting an overwhelming Hall of Fame case on the strength of his 300-plus wins, 4,000-plus strikeouts and unprecedented six Cy Young Awards.
Make it seven.
Now unretired -- at least for the time being -- and still plenty capable of putting up the wins and strikeouts, the 42-year-old Clemens made another bit of history yesterday, becoming the oldest player to win the Cy Young. His seventh such honor, and first as a National Leaguer, was his reward for going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA and helping lead the Houston Astros to the NL Championship Series.
"The phone call I received was as exciting as it was the first time," said Clemens, who received that phone call around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Japan, where he is part of a group of major league all-stars on a barnstorming tour. Clemens's comments came during a conference call with reporters, just hours before he was to pitch in Osaka.
Clemens received 23 of a possible 32 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, easily outdistancing Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Randy Johnson, who received eight first-place votes and finished second. Right-hander Roy Oswalt, Clemens's Houston teammate, received the remaining first-place vote and finished third.
Clemens said goodbye to the New York Yankees and to baseball following the 2003 season, making a memorable farewell during Game 4 of that season's World Series. However, his retirement was short-lived, as he changed his mind and signed a one-year deal to join best friend Andy Pettitte on his hometown Astros.
Much of yesterday's conference call with reporters centered on the question of whether Clemens will return in 2005, a decision he implied he has already made but is not ready to reveal.
"I kind of have a feeling on what I want to do and what the future holds," he said, "but now is not the time to do that. I want to speak to some family . . . and let them know how I'm feeling."
Clemens cited several factors working against a return in 2005, including the work required this winter to keep himself in playing shape, the time away from his family and his desire to start the clock ticking toward his Hall of Fame induction, which cannot occur until he has been retired for five years.
"My mother [Bess] has emphysema," Clemens said. Noting that his father died when Clemens was 9 , he added, "I don't want to speak [at the induction] to two empty chairs."
Likewise, Clemens brushed off a question about whether he would only consider pitching for the Astros in 2005, or whether other teams will have a chance to sign him.
Although Clemens signed with the Astros for a cut-rate salary of $5 million guaranteed in 2004, it is believed that his price tag will be considerably higher in 2005. In addition, there is considerable speculation that Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks will make a play for Clemens if the Astros let him get away.
This year's Cy Young balloting in the NL became a referendum of sorts on the importance of wins to a pitcher's legacy. Johnson, 41, had better numbers than Clemens -- or anyone else, for that matter -- almost across the board, posting a lower ERA, a lower opponents' batting average and more strikeouts.
However, Johnson went just 16-14 for the horrendous (51-111) Diamondbacks, falling victim to a criminal lack of run support (he went 13-2 when his team scored more than two runs in a game).
"Randy had a fine year himself, and his [run] support was down," Clemens said. "You can look at it a number of different ways."