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Sport Sections
Tuesday, November 21
For Yankees, money does matter

It started with Catfish Hunter, gained momentum with Reggie Jackson, who wrote the October patent, and now chugs along as a new millennium machine -- one free agent after another helping the Yankees devour the baseball community.

That is the perception, isn't it -- that it's the Bombers' long history of buying talent that's turned them into champions. Truth is, the Bombers changed their philosophy almost a decade ago, at the introduction of the Buck Showalter era, when the franchise finally started nourishing their farm system. In fact, in winning three straight World Series title, the only key free agents signed from another team have been David Wells and Mike Stanton. The heart of the team -- Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte -- were all developed from within.

But the Yankees have nevertheless created the most news and written the sexiest headlines with their free agent signings. Some have been staggering in their scope (who can forget Dave Winfield's 10-year, $23 million deal?) and others were outright failures, like Kenny Rogers.

With that, here's a list of 25 years of the 10 key free agent additions in the Bronx, a Best Of compilation that could add Mike Mussina or Manny Ramirez any day now. You never know.

Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson blasts one of his three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

Reggie Jackson
Mr. October was part of the first re-entry draft in baseball history, in November 1976, signing a five-year deal worth approximately $3 million. Needless to say, Reggie was made for New York, specifically the Yankees, who were on their way to becoming the sport's easiest team to love and/or loathe as Reggie led them to consecutive World Series title in 1977-78.

Jackson, however, was hated everywhere around the league, particularly in Baltimore, where he'd played the 1976 season. When Reggie turned down the Orioles' offer to remain -- choosing the Yankees instead -- he became a walking billboard for George Steinbrenner's mercenary tactics.

Dave Winfield
It sure was a historic contract -- considering Winfield signed in December 1980 and no one in that era, or even since, has exacted a 10-year commitment. Only, Steinbrenner was never aware of the escalator clause that allowed for cost-of-living increases, and when the owner asked Winfield to re-work the contract, it was too late. Winfield got his money, but the relationship was formally doomed.

It didn't help matters that Winfield went 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series, prompting the Boss to call him "Mr. May" -- an obvious and cutting reference to Reggie's Mr. October status.

Catfish Hunter
One of the open-market's true pioneers, set free in 1974 after Charlie Finley failed to honor certain contract obligations in Oakland. Hunter picked the Yankees for a number of reasons, but first and foremost because of the five-year, $3.5 million contract Steinbrenner was offering.

The right-hander was worth every penny, too, since in 1975, Hunter went on to lead the American League with 23 wins, 30 complete games and 328 innings. He also led the Yankees in 1975 in ERA (2.58) and seven shutouts. A year after his arrival, the Yankees returned to the World Series for the first time in 12 seasons.

David Cone
The gutty right-hander suffered a noticeable decline in 2000, but after signing a three-year, $18 million free agent contract before the 1996 season (he had been acquired in a trade from Toronto during 1995), became one of the Yankees' most dependable big-game pitchers. Most memorably, Cone came back from an aneurysm in his right shoulder in 1996, and after a four-month absence threw seven no-hit innings against the A's.

He went on to pitch three games in the postseason, including a Game 3 win over the Braves in the World Series after Atlanta had taken a 2-0 Series lead. Cone later signed a one-year free agent deal in 1999 that paid him $9.5 million, and another contract for 2000 that was worth $12 million. He may return to the Yankees in 2001, but for vastly reduced money.

David Wells
Signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract in 1997 and quickly became a cult hero in the Bronx, especially after throwing a perfect game against the Twins in May 1998. Wells was one of the centerpieces of the practically flawless '98 squad that won 125 games.

Yankee payrolls
The Yankees haven't signed a lot of free agents from other teams in recent years, but that hasn't prevented their team payroll from remaining the highest in the game:
Year Payroll Rank
1990 $19.3M 6th
1991 $31.4M 6th
1992 $34.9M 7th
1993 $46.6M 3rd
1994 $47.5M 1st
1995 $58.2M 1st
1996 $61.5M 1st
1997 $73.4M 1st
1998 $73.8M 1st
1999 $92.0M 1st
2000 $112.5M 1st

To this day, there's a debate whether the Yankees should have traded Wells to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roger Clemens in 1999, considering Boomer's superior postseason record. But as one Yankee officially recently reiterated, "Who was going to argue with five Cy Young awards? We had to make that deal, and would still do it today, given the chance to do it again."

Jimmy Key
An important element in the club's rebirth in the early '90s, signing a four-deal in 1993 in the wake of two World Series victories with the Blue Jays. In his very first season in the Bronx, Key led the Yankees in wins (18) and ERA (3.00) and was 11-3 in games following a Bombers' loss. Key was also the winning pitcher in the decisive Game 6 in the '96 World Series, defeating Greg Maddux.

Bernie Williams
After years of stalling on a long-term contract, it appeared the Yankees had finally exhausted Williams' patience in 1999. He was testing the market, all but ready to bolt to Arizona on a seven-year deal.

But at the 11th hour, at the urging of agent Scott Boras, Williams arranged a face-to-face meeting with Steinbrenner and bluntly told him, "Make this deal happen. I want to play for the Yankees."

As it turned out, Williams signed a seven-year, $94 million deal to remain in the Bronx -- a far more expensive proposition than if the Yankees had come to terms with him two years earlier. Still, Williams paid an immediate dividend, hitting a career-high .342 in 1999 and posting career-bests in home runs (30) and RBI (121) in 2000.

Wade Boggs
The Red Sox whispered -- no, they actually snickered -- that Boggs was on a fast decline after the 1992 season and were more than happy to let him escape into the Yankees' clutches. The third baseman proved them wrong, however, signing a three-year deal with the Bombers and beginning a four-run during which he batted .313.

Don Baylor
Although he played for only three seasons in New York, 1983-85, Baylor lent class and dignity to an organization that was poorly administered, often on a crisis-to-crisis basis.

Baylor had won the American League' MVP award in 1979 with the Angels, when he slugged 36 HR with 139 RBI, and was still an offensive force when he arrived in the Bronx. In his first season with the Yankees, Baylor led the Yankees with a .303 average, the first time in his career he batted over. 300

Joe Torre
Obviously, a manager can't be considered a free agent, but Torre deserves special consideration for our Top 10, since he was on the open market in 1995, and Steinbrenner could have picked anyone to manage the Yankees after Showalter's dismissal.

Lucky for the Bombers that Steinbrenner took a chance on Torre, who, in previous tenures with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, had made it to the postseason only once.

All he's done since arriving in the Bronx, however, is win four World Series in five years and is now the highest-paid manager in baseball, with a $3 million salary for 2001. This will be Torre's final year in a three-year pact, and it's generally assumed he'll retire, his entry ticket to Cooperstown all but punched.

Bob Klapisch of the Bergen (N.J.) Record covers baseball for

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The early days of free agency

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