Clemens news stirs clubhouse
Yankees express optimism upon addition of legendary righty
NEW YORK -- The doors to the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium will soon enough swing open for Roger Clemens, and those inside can't wait for him to walk in.
"With Roger, what he brings to the table in a clubhouse and the team, it's just a big lift for everybody," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Torre said that he knew "a couple of days ago" that the Clemens deal might be consummated, but he was kept to secrecy by general manager Brian Cashman and the organization. In what might wind up being the best-hidden news story in recent New York sports history, Torre said he even had to keep the news from his wife, Ali, until Saturday evening.
Torre's coaching staff had to wait for details of the transaction until Sunday morning, by which time Clemens was already in the air and bound for New York on a Continental Airlines flight from Houston.
As for the rest of the team? Torre suggested that some of the players learned of Clemens' pending arrival just as the rest of the 52,553 paying customers in Yankee Stadium did, as Clemens addressed the crowd wielding a microphone from the private box of Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner.
"Everyone's excited," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "Rocket's stuff is still good. For the last few years, he's been just as good as ever. He's one of those rare players who gets better with age. But you know, Rocket works hard. He goes out there. He knows how to pitch."
Though Johnny Damon said that the players had an inkling before Sunday's announcement, Clemens joked that Andy Pettitte might be upset amidst all the revelry, considering the two had a telephone conversation on Saturday and Clemens kept his best poker face on.
Pettitte, who was not available for comment, could be the only one with a cutting word for The Rocket. The rest of the Yankees can't seem to wait for the 44-year-old Clemens to strap it on and start attacking American League hitters again.
"He's going to help us out," Damon said. "Hopefully, he can get here soon and we can move on his career in wins and strikeouts and everything. The guy is a dominant pitcher, and it's going to be great for our ballclub."
"It's exciting when you get a notice like that," said right fielder Bobby Abreu. "[He's] one of the best pitchers in the game, and you have him on your team. You get excited. It makes you feel happy."
It couldn't have been a complete shock for the Yankees, who have been linked to Clemens more often than some torrid Hollywood love affair.
Even dating back to the first days of Spring Training, rumors of a possible Rocket relaunch in New York were commonplace.
"We knew there was a possibility in the spring," Torre said. "I talked about it with several players. I just felt that Roger's addition to this club would do a few things for us -- obviously, help us win, but another thing, not have to rush the young guys along. We just felt he was a great addition for more than one reason."
Before the Yankees reported to Tampa, Fla., for Spring Training, second baseman Robinson Cano volunteered to give up his uniform No. 22 just in case Clemens chose to reclaim it later in the year, instead opting to wear No. 24.
Clemens' good friend and former two-time teammate, Pettitte had also made a Bronx return of his own. From the start, Pettitte was forced into defense mode, claiming on numerous occasions that he had little more insight into Clemens' future plans than the mainstream media was reporting.
But, as Jeter noted, "You don't have to sell Rocket on New York."
The spotlight, of course, intensified when Clemens made an impromptu appearance at Legends Field on March 7. Clemens made an hour-plus trip from Kissimmee, Fla., to watch Pettitte pitch against the Cincinnati Reds under the lights, but he also had a little business to handle.
Clemens greeted Torre and Cashman that day and also had a private conversation with Steinbrenner, the contents of which Clemens said he may reveal after the season.
"I'll keep those close to my heart for now," Clemens said.
In the meantime, the Yankees face the rest of May without the assistance of Clemens, who will require a series of rehabilitation starts throughout the Yankees' Minor League chain.
While Clemens is toning his game for clubs like Class A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Jeter reminded that the Yankees still need to keep their attention on teams like the Rangers, Mariners, White Sox and Mets -- the next four opponents on their schedule.
"You can't look ahead, because I don't know when he plans on pitching," Jeter said. "You can't sit around here and say, 'Oh well, he's coming, so we're all right.' No. We have to play every day now."
The person with the worst view in the house for Clemens' stunning announcement, as it turned out, may have been Torre.
Because reliever Scott Proctor threw behind Mariners infielder Yuniesky Betancourt in the seventh inning and was ejected -- sparking a bench-clearing incident that, because of a previous warning, also had Torre tossed by home-plate umpire Mike Everitt -- the 66-year-old manager had to watch the events of the seventh-inning stretch on television.
"I missed the fun of the whole thing," Torre said. "I didn't even get a chance to witness it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.