NEW YORK - Roger Clemens decided against retirement - again - and the Houston Astros certainly made it worth his while to stick around for one more season.
Clemens and the Astros avoided an arbitration hearing yesterday by agreeing to a one-year, $18 million contract, a record salary for a pitcher. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner eclipsed the mark held by the New York Mets' Pedro Martinez, who earned $17.5 million last year in his final season with the Boston Red Sox.
"I'm ready for the challenge," Clemens said at a news conference in Houston. "Here we go again."
Clemens, who will turn 43 in August, walked away from the New York Yankees after the 2003 season, determined to begin the five-year wait for his telephone call from the Hall of Fame. But his retirement lasted only a few months when close friend Andy Pettitte, spurned by the Yankees, signed with Clemens' hometown team in Houston.
The Astros got the bargain of the century in 2004 when they signed Clemens to a one-year, $5 million deal that later was padded with $1.825 million in bonuses. Clemens did his part, winning the Cy Young Award and helping the Astros come within a victory of their first World Series appearance, but he still announced he was "99 percent" retired after the season.
But that thinking changed. When Clemens and the Astros exchanged arbitration figures Tuesday, he filed for a record $22 million - a stunning number that topped Derek Jeter's previous mark of $18.5 million in 2001 - and the Astros offered $13.5 million.
The midpoint of $17.75 million set the groundwork for yesterday's agreement, which also gave Clemens the highest one-year contract in history, eclipsing Greg Maddux's $14.75 million deal with the Braves in 2003. "I kind of sat back and laughed at the numbers," Clemens said.
Clemens finished 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA last year, striking out 218, and the Astros put together a late 36-10 run to earn the wild card. They won a postseason series for the first time and brought a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of the National League championship series.
During that series, Clemens expressed disappointment that he did not get to pitch much with Pettitte, who managed only 83 innings in 15 starts and was sidelined by season-ending elbow surgery in August.
Clemens is 10th on the career wins list with 328, one behind Steve Carlton, and his 4,317 strikeouts are second to Nolan Ryan's 5,714.
Clemens credited sons Koby and Kory with talking him into playing again.
He also remembered being honored at halftime of a Houston Texans' NFL game, saying, "You got 60,000 people chanting, 'One more year!' That stuck with me."
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Breaking the bank
Roger Clemens' $18 million deal with the Astros is the highest single-season contract in baseball history (salaries in millions):
Player, Team Yr Total
Roger Clemens, Hou '05 $18
Greg Maddux, Atl '03 $14.75
Kevin Millwood, Phi '04 $11
Ivan Rodriguez, Fla '03 $10