Rocket has 1-year deal for $5 million

Updated: January 14, 2004, 5:18 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens is pushing back his retirement, agreeing Monday to a $5 million, one-year contract with the Houston Astros.

Clemens, the game's only six-time Cy Young Award winner, had said for more than a year that he planned to quit after pitching last season for the New York Yankees.

Tom Candiotti's Take
Roger Clemens
Clemens

The Astros now have one of the best rotations in baseball with Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Wade Miller. For years now the Astros have had one of the better bullpens in the National League, but not enough starting pitching to consistently get to the sixth inning of games. With the combination of Pettitte and Clemens, that should be taken care of this season.

Clemens was entering the toughest year of retirement for a pitcher -- the first. He's still in good shape and knows he can still strike out batters. Last season, he won 17 games while having 190 strikeouts, 10th most in the majors. Those aren't the numbers of someone who's over the hill. With spring training right around the corner, I'm sure the competitive juices were flowing and he realized he wasn't ready to hand the ball to the manager.
-- Tom Candiotti, ESPN baseball analyst

But he was persuaded to join the Astros, his hometown team, after close friend and former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte signed with Houston last month.

"I took to heart what Wayne Gretzky told me and Michael [Jordan] and Emmitt Smith and even Johnny Bench," Clemens said. "It's great to come home."

Once his wife and four boys approved, Clemens got the one final OK he needed to hear.

"My mother gave it her blessing," he said.

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

"I wish him the best of luck," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney earlier Monday. "I'll always think of him as a Yankee. His time here was special. One of the best moves we made was making Roger Clemens a Yankee.

"I am surprised [that he's not retiring]. There was never any 'I'm 90 percent retired,' or '99 percent retired.' It was always communicated he wanted to go out a Yankee. But people have a right to change their mind. We weren't allowed to be a part of the process [of negotiating for 2004], for whatever reason. But I'm not going to dwell on this."

Houston is deferring $3.5 million of Clemens' salary for two years. In addition to the base, Clemens can earn an additional $1.4 million based on the Astros' attendance.

In addition, Clemens has a 10-year personal services contract with the Astros that will begin when he finishes playing.

Clemens also has an informal understanding that permits him to attend his sons' games during the season when he's not scheduled to pitch.

"Because of who he is, there are a few exceptions we are allowing him to make with our rules," Hunsicker said. "His family is a big part of this, so we worked it out. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He is one of the greatest to play the game."

The Astros said they will try to pitch Clemens mostly at home. Houston plays one series in New York in 2004, Aug. 10-12 at Shea Stadium against the Mets.

"I can be with my family a little more and watch my boys do their thing," he said.

Fantasy Focus
Hope you didn't drop Roger Clemens in a keeper fantasy league. Assuming Clemens makes at least 25 starts - we don't know if he'll travel, for example, to Montreal, or even if he'll be healthy enough to throw 200 innings -- he definitely remains a fantasy factor. He's a pitcher not just hangin' on here. Clemens may take a minor hit in wins and ERA, but he ranked 10th in strikeouts on the fantasy Player Rater last season. That's 10th in all of fantasy. Don't think Clemens will just fall off and give us a "Tom Glavine 2003" performance. Drop Clemens down a bit on lists in comparison to '03 drafts, but I'd still take the Rocket over Matt Clement, Vicente Padilla, David Wells and any Mets for the Ks alone.
-- Eric Karabell

Clemens, 41, was 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA last season, his fifth with the Yankees. He spent his first 13 seasons in Boston, then went to Toronto for two years before moving on to New York, where he won World Series titles in 1999 and 2000.

"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."

His 310-160 record puts him 17th on the career wins list, and his 4,099 strikeouts place him third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Steve Carlton (4,136).

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

Clemens' last appearance for the Yankees was a memorable one, in Game 4 of the World Series against the Florida Marlins. Flashbulbs popped repeatedly as fans photographed what they thought would be his final pitches.

Fifty friends and family members flew to Miami to watch the game; Clemens didn't get a decision as the Yankees lost to Florida 4-3 in 12 innings. Even the Marlins' players applauded after Clemens struck out Luis Castillo in what was thought to be his final major league pitch.

"So many people were using flash photography, it was quite amazing," Clemens said then. "I think everybody started understanding that it was going to be my last inning, my last hitter, my last pitch."

Clemens thought about pitching for the United States at the 2004 Olympics, but the Americans were eliminated in qualifying in November.

Clemens' outlook on retirement started to change Dec. 11, when left-hander Pettitte -- who also lives in the Houston area -- agreed to a $31.5 million, three-year contract with the Astros.

"I was in a shutdown mode," Clemens said. "Obviously, I think I have a lot to give. When I get into that dugout, I'm going to be excited to get back to work. We want to get to that final step and make some memories together."

"We wouldn't even be talking here now if Andy wasn't here," he said. "Andy signing down here just changed everything. I was surprised. I already had my schedule laid out to get twice a month to New York and watch Andy."

Houston, which has never been to a World Series, will head to spring training with a projected starting rotation that includes Clemens, Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller.

"Throughout history, this franchise always has been looked on as the underdog," Hunsicker said.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think this team had a great chance of winning. That obviously figures into it," Clemens said.

Clemens will play in the ballpark he helped open. He pitched in the first game at then-Enron Field, an exhibition between the Yankees and Houston on March 30, 2000.

With the Astros, Clemens will have to bat regularly after spending his entire career in the American League. He'll also be pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark where 186 homers were hit last season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, seventh-most in the major leagues.

Clemens even joked about pushing back the fences at Minute Maid Park.

Cashman believed Clemens' retirement statements and made no effort to re-sign him.

"I can't think of him as anything but a Yankee regardless of what jersey he wore before us or after us," Cashman said. "Houston is getting one of the greatest all-time pitchers. He lived up to everything we wanted. He's his own man. He chose to pitch for Houston."

Clemens has often said he wants a Yankee emblem on his Hall of Fame cap. By joining the Astros, he pushes back his election another year to at least 2010.

A former Yankees teammates wasn't surprised by the decision.

"I guess the next best thing to retirement is playing at home," pitcher Jeff Nelson said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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