How a little-known team employee may have helped the Yankees land Gerrit Cole

NEW YORK --  The Yankees introduced new staff ace Gerrit Cole with a press conference at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon. New York drafted Cole in the first round in 2008 and they tried to acquire him in a trade two years ago, but were unable to seal the deal both times. It took 11 years, but they finally got their man this offseason.

The Yankees met with Cole and agent Scott Boras in California two weeks ago and, during their meeting, Yankees manager Aaron Boone presented Cole with bottles of 2004 and 2005 Masseto Merlot, one of the top red wines in the world. The Yankees knew Cole is a fine wine aficionado and they presented him with a gift during the free agent courting process.

As it turns out, Masseto Merlot has a special meaning to Cole, and he was taken aback when the Yankees presented him with the wine. The Yankees can thank Yankee Stadium visiting clubhouse manager Lou Cucuzza for that. Cucuzza got to know Cole over the years and he tipped the team off about his wine preferences.

Here's Cole explaining everything:

"I'm really good friends with Lou. He's just about as classy as it gets. I've been fortunate to work with some really great guys in the clubhouse. I love (Astros clubhouse manager) Carl Schneider, I love (Pirates clubhouse manager) Scott Bonnett. There are some visiting clubhouse guys that are really close to my heart and Lou is one of them. You walk into a foreign atmosphere and you need someone to take care of you, and that's what those guys do.

"I always come into Lou's office when I got nothing to do and I kick my feet up on the table, and we just talk about stuff. We were talking about my trip to Italy with my wife the other year, and he always likes to know what I'm cooking because I like to cook at my house. I showed him pictures of a meal that we ate in a cellar in Florence and there's a picture of a bottle of Masseto. He asked me what the bottle was and I said, 'It's Masseto, it's probably acknowledged as the second best red wine in the world.'

"Aaron brought a couple bottles of it and one of the vintages they brought was one of the exact same vintage from the anniversary dinner that my wife and I had in Florence. I was a little bit back on my heels. I remember trying to stay focused on the meeting and not thinking about booze the entire time, but I still couldn't figure it out.

"When I came home, I was telling (my wife) Amy, 'How the f--- did they pull that off?' Not many people in the world know that that's my favorite wine ... I laid my head down at like 11:30 at night and didn't sleep much that day. I flew back up and I was like, 'LOU!' I remembered the conversation and I guess it went from Lou to (Brian Cashman) to Boone."

The bottles of wine were a nice gesture, for sure, but offering nine years and $324 million didn't hurt either. The Yankees gave Cole the richest pitcher contract in history and the top offer was always going to win out. Bringing him the wine -- Cole's favorite wine, at that -- didn't hurt though. That person touch can be a big deal.

"To see the look on him and Amy's face, it was great," Boone said. "It was something that I think carried some sentimental meaning to them. So I think he was a little perplexed about how we figured that out. We give Lou Cucuzza gets all the credit for that."

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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