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WSI News - News Watch

Yankees go back to the Well(s)

January 10th, from the Associated Press

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, agreed.

"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 me."

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 back surgery.

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 us."

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 each season.

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