Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw just signed a seven-year, $215 million contract, the fifth largest in pro sports history.
In Oklahoma City Tuesday night to accept the Warren Spahn Award at a banquet at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, Kershaw said it's humbling that his average salary ($30.1 million) is the largest in Major League Baseball history.
“It's a huge compliment the Dodgers' ownership group, and (team president) Stan (Kasten) and Ned (Colletti) in the front office, believe in you that much,” Kershaw said. “They're investing a lot of money.
“As far as all that I other stuff, I really don't worry about anyone else's contracts. But being part of the (MLB players) union, you want to set a precedent for the next guy.”
Kershaw, 25, is the first pitcher to lead the majors in ERA three consecutive seasons since Greg Maddux 20 years ago. This was his second Warren Spahn Award, given to the best left-handed pitcher in baseball. He also won the National League Cy Young Award in 2011 and 2013.
“We fell a little short of the playoffs, which was a little disappointing. Your first priority is to win the World Series,” Kershaw said. “But individually, any time you're associated with Warren Spahn and Cy Young, two of the greatest pitchers of all time, it's very special. I definitely don't take that for granted.”
Baseball players account for 19 of the top 20 contracts in team sports history, the exception being Kimi Raikkonen, a Formula One race car driver who received a three-year, $153 million deal from 2007-09 that averaged $51 million a year.
NBA and NFL players don't make the top 20 list because they rarely receive seven- to 10-year contracts. Several NBA players, though, are listed in the top 50, led by Lakers star Kobe Bryant's seven-year $136 million deal in 2004.
Midway through a five-year $89 million deal, Thunder star Kevin Durant doesn't make the top 75. Durant's average salary ($17.8 million a season) barely squeezes into the top 50.
Kershaw last season notched 16 wins with a 1.83 ERA. The Dallas Highland Park product has registered 212 or more strikeouts four consecutive seasons. He will report to spring training in two weeks.
Many analysts believe the Dodgers are the team to beat in the NL West in large part due to a rotation led by Kershaw, Zack Greinke, another former Cy Young winner, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who won 14 games last season.
“We added Dan Haren, so we've got four solid guys,” Kershaw said. “If (Josh) Beckett comes back healthy like we think, we'll have five really quality guys. We also have Chad Billingsley, who is coming off Tommy John (surgery). He should be back by late May or June.
“We're really excited about the season. We feel we have a really good team. But games aren't won on paper. You have to go out and perform.”
In addition to his baseball accomplishments, Kershaw won the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award for charity ventures he and his wife, Ellen, actively are involved in.
The Kershaws have built an orphanage in the Republic of Zambia in East Africa that houses nine children, and are involved with charities in Los Angeles and Dallas that are geared toward after-school programs for disadvantaged kids.
“With your contract being published, and everybody knowing how much money you make, there's a ton of responsibility that falls on you,” Kershaw said. “We understand that. We really just want to expand what we've been doing with our charities.”
As for the record-setting contract, Kershaw insisted on an opt-out clause after five years.
“I didn't want to get overwhelmed with having to perform at my best for a longer time than that,” Kershaw said. “I want to perform like I want to perform for the entire length of the contract, not just a year or two. I felt five was the longest I could do that.”