NORMAN — Sandy Koufax, once upon a time, said that he’d rather have Dwight Gooden’s future than his very own past.
The great southpaw was wrong about that one, but it’s interesting to remember Koufax’s incorrect thought a day after two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, still just 25 and the best Dodger to take the mound since Koufax, signed a seven-year, $215 million contract, the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher for the largest per-season salary any player’s ever enjoyed in the history of the game.
In a sport in which veterans tend to be paid for what they’ve already done — hello Albert Pujols (and Carl Crawford, Marx Teixira, to say nothing of the $61 million still owed Alex Rodriguez) — rather than what’s expected of them through the length of the contract; even a sport in which the teams themselves understand they’re unlikely to get any real return on the back end of the high eight- and nine-figure deals they strike, Kershaw’s deal is almost a breath of fresh air because it’s pretty likely he’ll remain one of the game’s best through its length.
But there’s also this:
Though he’s had no real arm trouble and has started 30, 32, 33, 33 and 33 games each of his last five seasons, real durability in today’s MLB, at $30.7 million per season, pretty much, he’s being paid a million every time he takes the mound and that’s insane.
Also, guess how many pitchers have started at least 215 big league games the last seven seasons?
It’s four: Bronson Arroyo (230), Matt Cain (227), Mark Buehrle (225) and A.J. Burnett (218).
So, unless Kershaw is as durable over his next seven seasons as all but four have been over the previous seven, he will be making at least a million per start.
This couldn’t be without the five-man rotation, in which starting pitchers start, duh, every fifth day (if a team’s trying to maximize an arm in the shot term) or every fifth game (if it’s trying to protect an arm for the long term).
Once upon a time, pitchers weren’t only expected to throw complete games, something else that’s gone by the wayside, but they were expected to do it every fourth day.
Because you’re curious, from 1983-89, a seven-year window that began only 20 years ago, 10 started at least 215 games. Charlie Hough led the way at 240, but hardly counts because he was a knuckleballer. But Jack Morris wasn’t, and he started 234, and Nolan Ryan sure wasn’t and he started 223.
Of course, pitching was in transition by then, so let’s look at 1970-76. Over that seven-year span, 11 pitchers started at least 215 games and, get this, 10 of them started at least 234 and four of them started at least 259: Fergie Jenkins (259), Steve Carlton (261), Catfish Hunter (266) and, the only knuckler in the group, Mickey Lolich (270).
Back in the day, pitchers pitched more often, deeper into games and for much, much, much, much less money.
If any pitcher deserves Kerhshaw’s contract for what his next seven seasons might look like, it’s Kershaw. Also, we’re looking at our first million-an-outing starter, and none of it would be possible without the five-man rotation.
And, if part one of this column was the history lesson just presented, part two is the following: things, like the four-man rotation, worth missing in sports.
In no particular order …
The actual ABA basketball. You know, the red, white and blue.
Football coaches in suits, like Tom Landry.
Smoking in the dugout and on the fairway.
Not hanging your with your rival, Magic and Larry.
Pro wrestling territories.
Sports-minded TV shows like “The White Shadow.”
Ubiquitous sportscasters like Howard Cosell, Jim McKay and the young Brent Musburger.
A press row that’s actually courtside.
Cool pitchers names like Vida Blue, Al Hrabosky and Don Gullett.
Household open-wheel racing names like A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford and Tom Sneva.
Household track and field names like Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Mary Decker and Alberto Salazar.
Great tennis names like Vitas Gerulaitus, Guillermo Vilas and Hans Gildemeister.
Helmetless hockey players.
Triple Crown winners.
Athletes who stood for something, loyal to their sense of justice rather than Nike, Reebok or Adidas.
Something you never, ever saw coming, like Bob Beamon’s jump, Wayne Gretzky’s teenage ascendancy and Reggie Jackson taking the Dodgers deep back-to-back-to-back.
The arc of a Garfield Heard jumper.
The way Willie Stargell swung the bat around before he swung the bat at the pitch.
Harry Caray in the afternoon.
A day newspapers were king.
Follow me @clayhorning
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