NEW YORK (AP) — On his first day in pinstripes, Gerrit Cole admitted to stealing a sign — no, not those signs.
Cole affixed his signature to a record $324 million, nine-year contract at 10:45 a.m., walked into a news conference at Yankee Stadium and pulled out the crinkled placard he took to one of New York’s World Series games at Arizona in 2001. A newspaper photo from Game 6 or 7 shows the 11-year-old holding the sign reading: “Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever.” Cole brought the banner to the Bronx, its letters no longer blue but now tan.
“I’d like to start with something that’s pretty special to my heart,” he said, pulling out the sign in a stroke of showmanship that would have made George Steinbrenner proud. “I’d just like to say, I’m here. I’ve always been here.”
Cole held up the sign of fealty with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner — George’s son — and admitted he didn’t make the poster but was gifted it from other fans who had brought it to an earlier Series game. They gave it to him at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix, where Cole stayed with his family, along with the Yankees.
“I had it on my wall for a few years and I think that’s why it faded, and I tucked it in my closet,” Cole said. “My folks brought it down. I think after we came to terms.”
Now he’ll have a chance to pitch the Yankees to their 28th World Series title, their first since 2009.
“We need to win some world championships,” Steinbrenner said. ”Plural.”
Cole spurned the Yankees when they drafted him 28th overall in 2008, choosing to enroll at UCLA. He signed with Pittsburgh three years later after he was the No. 1 pick in the nation.
Now as a free agent, he finally was fitted for pinstripes.
His deal pays $36 million annually and while he can opt out after the fifth season, the Yankees would have two days to block the opt out by adding a 10th season at $36 million.
“It was my dream. I had a second opportunity to chase it,” Cole said. “Some people don’t quite take the word ‘no’ as well as these guys did. And I would say that it paid off, that’s for sure.”
While he grew up in southern California, Cole became a Yankees fan because his father rooted for them.
“It’s hard not to fall in love with the Yankees from like ‘94 to 2002,” he said. “What a franchise of tradition and success and championships. And it kind of embodies the true American dream.”
Cole pitched for the Pirates from 2013-17, then was traded to Houston. He spent two seasons with the Astros, coming within one win of a World Series title this year. Cole maintained he has not been questioned by Major League Baseball in its investigation of allegations the Astros used electronics to steal signs in 2017 and perhaps later years.
“I did not see anything, anything illegal in any way,” he said.
Cole put on a No. 45 jersey, the number that had belonged to Luke Voit, who is switching to 59 to honor the number his brother John wore as Army football captain; Cole wants to wait for the first baseman’s permission to disclose the pitcher’s obligation in the transaction.
To comply with Yankees team rules, the 29-year-old right-hander’s beard was newly shorn.
“He cleans up nice, doesn’t he?” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Cole had been known for a scruffy look going back to his college days. Davey Castillo, a barber who is friends with Yankees equipment manager Rob Cucuzza, went to Cole’s room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel Wednesday morning to apply a shave.
“I’ve experienced razor burn now for the first time,” Cole said.
When the Yankees sent a delegation to meet with Cole and his wife Amy (a sister of San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford) on Dec. 3 in Newport Beach, California, they brought along a gold-colored home plate that was embroidered in pinstripes and contained an iPad with information about the organization, housing in the New York area and personal messages from players and executives.
Boone brought along bottles of 2004 and 2005 Masseto, a Tuscan wine of Merlot grapes that sells for $700-$900 per bottle.
”I remember trying to stay focused in the meeting, obviously, not think about booze the entire time,” Cole said, dropping in a few profanities. “When I came home, I was trying to grind it, I was telling Amy, how did they pull that off? I mean, there are not very many people in the world that know that that’s like my favorite wine.”
Then he woke up and shouted “Lou!”
Cole once told Lou Cucuzza Jr., the Yankees’ director of clubhouse operations, he had 2004 Masseto at an anniversary dinner in a cellar in Florence, Italy.
“He knew exactly what bottle to get,” Cole said.
Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, told Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Dec. 8, the eve of the winter meetings, to hold off a day on his initial offer.
“There’ll be some new information I think will be very important for you and Hal Steinbrenner to factor in,” Boras said.
Boras struck a record $245 million, seven-year contract on Dec. 9 for 31-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg to remain with Washington. Boras told teams opening offers should be eight years. The Yankees wanted to preempt other clubs, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, so they made their second and final offer.
“Had this dragged out another week or two, somebody would have done what we did. I just think the kid, he’s too special to pass up,” Steinbrenner said. “At that particular point in time, that day, that’s what differentiated us from from whoever else was involved, I’m guessing.
Cole thanked Curt Flood and Marvin Miller for their pioneering fights that led to free agency and huge contracts. His deal is the largest for a pitcher in both its total and its average annual value of $36 million. New York hopes Cole will lead a young corp that includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sánchez and Gleyber Torres to the Yankees’ first title since 2009.
“Clearly, I felt that it was it was time to strike, if you will,” Steinbrenner said, “to really get that final big piece that can that can make a difference.”
Notes: New York forfeited its second- and fifth-highest draft picks, roughly No. 62 and No. 164 overall overall. Houston gets an extra pick as compensation, approximately No. 74. … To clear a roster spot, the Yankees designated right-hander Chance Adams for assignment. … Cole’s jersey had the new 1 x 2.59-inch Nike swoosh that will be on the upper left chest of all MLB uniforms this season.
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