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Yankees add a Rocket

Post-season hero David Wells, two others head to Toronto in a deal for the five-time Cy Young winner.

By MIKE READLING and ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 19, 1999


TAMPA -- It will go down as a memorable day that the powerful New York Yankees got even more powerful. And a day they did so at the expense of one of their best and most-loved players.

Thursday, the World Series champs acquired five-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens in a stunning trade for lefty David Wells, reliever Graeme Lloyd and infielder Homer Bush.

The Yankees get the most dominating pitcher in the American League over the past decade, but they gave up in Wells not only an 18-game winner but a gregarious and revered clubhouse fixture.

"I'm a little emotional right now," Wells said to reporters as he walked to his car. "Give me a couple of days. This is a little tough right now."

Added close friend David Cone: "The only way you can get away with trading a person like David Wells is if you get Roger Clemens. He's the best in the game. I talked to David and he's normally a sharp shooter. When a guy like him struggles for words, that's an indication to me that this hit him hard."

Wells, notoriously wild and free-spirited, stood in front of his locker at Legends Field early Thursday getting ready to shave off his signature goatee as part of the Yankees' spring training tradition.

That was before general manager Brian Cashman called him into manager Joe Torre's office.

"He kept asking me why but I just told him he had to come into the office," a solemn Cashman said.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound lefty entered the room and joked, "Here it is, the first day of spring training and I'm already in trouble."

Trouble? No. Traded? Yes.

"I told him this was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do," Cashman said. "His reaction was "Goooollllyy,' or something like that. Then his next question was, "Who's going with me?' "

* * *

Still holding the shaving kit, Wells looked at Cashman and deadpanned that if he had found out about the trade "five minutes later after he shaved, he would have pulled my arms and legs out," Cashman said.

Ironically, Wells had just completed a radio interview with a local station in which he had talked about the Blue Jays and how they were going to look this season.

"We lost a lot of personality today," Cone said. "And I'll tell you this, there are going to be some bars going out of business in New York this season."

The news of the deal caused mixed emotions in the clubhouse as team members learned they had lost their post-season hero and the man who recorded the 14th perfect game in major-league history, May 17 against the Twins.

"It's a shock, nobody knew about it," lefty Andy Pettitte said. "It's the first day and you don't expect something like that. But it makes you realize that you can never be too comfortable."

Perhaps the most surprising part of the deal was the pace with which it was completed.

It began at 3 p.m. Wednesday when Cashman returned a phone call from Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash.

"I told him that if he had an offer to give me, some players in mind, to give it now," Cashman said. "He said Wells, Lloyd and Bush. That's when I knew they were serious.

"Yesterday was the first day that any (trade offer) made my knees buckle."

After a few hours of discussions between Cashman at Legends Field and Yankees front office personnel, who were eating with owner George Steinbrenner at Malio's, the deal was sealed at 11:42 p.m.

"I didn't sleep all night last night," Torre said. "I knew I was going to have to come in here and talk to Boomer (Wells' nickname) today."

Cashman said Lloyd was equally stunned, but Bush, who returned to clear out his locker, was more upbeat.

"I kind of knew it was coming, but the other two guys, I don't think they knew," said Bush, whom the Yankees acquired as part of the much-publicized Hideki Irabu deal with San Diego in 1997. "Well, I guess I'm part of another high-profile trade."

All this for a man called "Rocket," who is expected to join his new team Saturday.

Clemens, 36, was 20-6 with a 2.65 ERA and league-leading 271 strikeouts last season. He has two years left on his contract and is due to be paid $16.1-million.

"I just can't wait to try on the hat and the pinstripes," Clemens said during a teleconference. "It's going to be exciting. ... It's just another great challenge. I always enjoy the challenges and I know I have met my match in a guy (Steinbrenner) who wants to win. I feel really fortunate."

Second all-time with six ERA titles, Clemens is No. 10 in career strikeouts and is the active leader in strikeouts, wins and shutouts. About the only thing he has not accomplished is a World Series title.

"He will be salivating at the opportunity to win one of those," Steinbrenner said. "He is going to fit in so well here with the Paul O'Neills and Derek Jeters, guys who are warriors. That's what he is, a warrior. That's the best way to put it."

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