NEW YORK -- David Wells decided what was in his heart was
worth more than his handshake.
Looking slimmer and wearing his old No. 33, Wells seemed right
at home Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
Back at the ballpark where he once was popular, productive and
even perfect, Boomer was on hand as the New York Yankees formally
announced his signing to a $7 million, two-year contract.
"The city knows, the organization knows, this is where I
belong," said Wells, who helped pitch the Yankees to the 1998
World Series championship. "I've got the mentality for New York,
and New York has it for me."
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who personally lured the
38-year-old left-hander from the Arizona Diamondbacks' clutches,
"David Wells is a winner and he belongs in pinstripes,"
Steinbrenner said in a statement. "People may say we're going out
on a limb, but we'll see. We're betting on the Boomer."
Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, who had a handshake
agreement with Wells three weeks ago, called the pitcher's
explanation for backing out "wishy-washy."
Hoping to add another ace to the team that beat the Yankees in
last year's World Series, Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola
Jr., manager Bob Brenly and Colangelo met with Wells on Dec. 20.
When the evening ended, Wells shook hands with Colangelo and the
owner believed they had a one-year deal for $1 million. But at a
lunch with Steinbrenner four days later, there was a twist.
After wishing him well in Arizona, Steinbrenner suddenly asked
Wells a series of questions and then said, "I want to bring you
back. I want you to retire as a Yankee."
Wells, who said "my heart lied in New York" while he played
elsewhere, jumped at the opportunity.
A few days later, Colangelo was upset to discover Wells was
rejoining the Yankees. Colangelo, who also owns the Phoenix Suns,
said it was the first time anyone had ever broken a handshake
agreement with him.
"I can understand that. I feel bad, but he's got to look at it
as a business thing," Wells said.
"At the end of the day, I shook his hand and said thank you
very much. There was never any obligation. I never signed
anything," he said. "If they'd thrown a contract at me, I
would've. I had all the intentions of it, but things happen."
Upon hearing Wells' explanation, Colangelo countered: "That's
kind of wishy-washy, but that's OK. He's got to live with it, not
Wells had met with Steinbrenner in mid-December. But Wells got
no indication the Yankees were interested, leaving him to think his
next appearance in pinstripes would be at Old-Timers Day.
"Was he on the radar screen high? No," Yankees general manager
Brian Cashman said.
Wells was 5-7 with a 4.47 ERA in 16 starts for the Chicago White
Sox last year, missing the second half of the season because of
Having lost 25 pounds -- he described himself as "a slim 250,"
-- Wells pronounced himself ready to pitch.
Wells joins a rotation that includes Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Sterling Hitchcock, meaning the Yankees
could trade Orlando Hernandez.
"I'm sure I'm going to be one of the five," Wells said.
Wells had no trouble getting back his favorite number. Infielder
Alfonso Soriano gave it up voluntarily -- often, it takes a Rolex
watch or two to coax a player into trading jerseys.
"It looks better on me," Wells said. "I have a wider back."
Wells played for the Yankees in 1997 and 1998, pitching a
perfect game and also going a combined 5-0 in the postseason. He
was traded to Toronto the following spring training in a package
for Clemens, and sent to the White Sox before last season.
Clemens and the Yankees won the World Series championships in
1999 and 2000, while Wells was stuck watching at his ranch in
Michigan with former big leaguer Kirk Gibson.
"I was going around town, looking for a Little League playoff
game. I was looking for a big game to pitch," he said.
While he was successful, Wells' loud personality and even louder
heavy-metal music annoyed some teammates. It took a while for
manager Joe Torre to warm to Wells.
Wells said he recently spoke to Torre, who is in Hawaii, and
that the manager assured him there were no lingering problems.
"David has certainly shown that he can win in New York," Torre
said in a statement. "If he's healthy, he will be a big plus for
Wells got a $1 million signing bonus, with salaries of $2
million for 2002 and $3 million for 2003. There's a club option for
$6 million in 2004, with a $1 million buyout.
The contract includes $4 million in performance bonuses for each
of the 2002 and 2003 seasons that he can reach by making 30 starts
Bellinger designated for assignment
The Yankees designated infielder-outfielder Clay Bellinger for assignment Thursday to make
room for David Wells on the 40-man roster.
Bellinger, 33, hit .160 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 51
games last season.
The Yankees have 10 days to trade Bellinger, release him or send
him outright to the minors.
Bellinger has played all three of his major league seasons with
the Yankees, hitting .194 with 12 homers and 35 RBI in 181 games.
-- Associated Press
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