‘Big market teams are not trying to win’: Clayton Kershaw gets candid—on many topics
Clayton Kershaw had plenty to say on a wide range of topics in an interview with The Times at his home three months after helping the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988. Direct quotes not included in the initial article follow:
On what’s motivating him after winning a World Series: “The motivation is the fact that the Dodgers are one of the few teams that are actually trying, you know? Like when you look around the league, we have a great opportunity to win another one. So there’s motivation in that, knowing that I’m very fortunate to be on a team that actually tries to win every single year is pretty cool.
“Because you see around the league, a lot of these . . . big market teams are not trying to win and trading guys and doing different things and not spending money. And for us to have a chance to do that, to have a guy like Mookie [Betts], to have the best player in baseball, to have Walker [Buehler], to have [Corey Seager] for one more year . . . hopefully longer, but Seag for at least one more year.
That’s the motivation. We have a chance to do something really cool. And so I guess the answer is: My motivation is a lot more like positive as opposed to like, ‘Just get this done. We need to get this done. I’m tired of dealing with this over and over every year.’ And so I think that it’s a better feeling. It makes me happy thinking about it.”
On the burden of winning: “Yeah. It’s a burden. Yeah, I mean, it hasn’t changed. We’ve always been a good team and never put it together and I was always at the center of that so I think now that we’ve done it and we have won, it’s easier to talk about, for one. And then, two, you don’t necessarily have that burden of doing it for the first time in 32 years.”
‘There’s some truth to that burden’: In an exclusive interview, a relaxed Clayton Kershaw acknowledges this year might be his last with the Dodgers.
On the past failures haunting him: “You can kind of deal with the negative and the criticisms and all that. You can deal with that yourself, like, you signed up for that. You’re an athlete. You deal with that, good and bad. But you just feel bad for the people around you.
“Like I feel bad for Ellen having to deal with that all the time. I feel bad for my teammates that have been in it with you that whole time. You think about guys that have been there with me the whole time. Like [Justin Turner]. You feel bad for JT. You feel for [Dave Roberts] having to deal with that. Kenley [Jansen]. All these guys that have been there for a long time. You feel bad.
You feel like you let your peers down. And that’s — that’s just not a good feeling. So that’s why winning was even that much better of a feeling. Getting to hug those guys after the game and finally say, ‘We did it.’ That was probably the best part about it. It was pretty cool.
On whether he wants to play beyond this year: “Yeah. Well, I say that. I don’t know. I talk to different guys, you know, that have retired that I’ve played with and it’s hard. It’s always a hard thing to figure out when you want to be done, right? Because if you still feel good and are having success, why would you stop? But you don’t want to go until you completely break, right? And you don’t want to pitch when you’re bad.
“So I’ll just say, I don’t know. I have no idea. I do know that I still love it and I have a blast. I feel great and the number one goal this year is just to pitch good and win and next year will take care of itself after that.”
On talking to Sandy Koufax after the World Series: We talked on the phone. He’s just very happy for us. At some point, when he feels good to go out, I’ll see him again. It’s always cool because he’s always been so positive and he feels it, too, when I pitch bad and so it’s just cool to get to see all those guys. All the guys that came before us and stuff. Even the newer old guys like Andre [Ethier] and Matt Kemp, different guys. They’re just happy for us. it’s cool.
On if he wants to open contract extension talks with the Dodgers: “I think it’s hard to have that commitment talk when you just want to pitch good and you just want to honor the commitment that you’ve made, you know what I mean?
“So, for me, I committed to three more years and I want to honor that and pitch as well as I can and see where I’m at and then go from there. You just want to honor the commitment that you made and not overextend yourself. And that’s important to me. You just want to honor it.”
On baseball’s economics and tanking: “I don’t have a firm enough grasp on the economics to make a serious answer on a lot of this stuff, but what I do know is that some teams are having the ability to do all this stuff and go get guys and it’s teams that you wouldn’t expect and it’s teams that shouldn’t have more money than other teams.
“The Rays maybe get a pass, right, because they’ve proven they can have success doing that. Other than them, Oakland has had success doing it, but I don’t think any other team gets a pass. You’ve got to spend money to win. And then I don’t think this rebuilding approach, losing 100 games for a few years and then turning it around [works]. There’s only going to be one team that does that a year, potentially.
“So, yeah, for every Astros or Cubs story. there’s going to be 10 other teams that don’t win and they’re just going to have to do it all over again. And how, as a fanbase, can you accept that? The whole rebuild, don’t spend money for a few years, get a bunch of draft picks and try to do it, it’s tired. Every team does it now. Every team. They need to be more creative. Figure something out.
“There’s a lot of smart guys in front offices. Figure something out that’s easier to do than trading away a [star]. Just, for example, a potential Cy Young [Award winner] in [Yu] Darvish, who has been one of the top five pitchers in baseball for a year and a half, for prospects that could potentially be good but they’re 17, 18 years old. And [Kyle] Davies is a great pitcher, but to me, that’s just not . . . For the Chicago Cubs to do that, it’s not good. It’s just not good.”
The Dodgers plan for Julio Urías to join Bauer, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and David Price as starters. Where does that leave Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin?
On Andrew Friedman’s success: “What Andrew’s doing is really impressive. Yes, he has the resources to do it. And yes, he has the farm system to, but he built that. Andrew deserves a lot of credit for being able to churn out team after team.
“And then our payroll and stuff is in really good shape for years to come. With all the guys that come off the books after next year, including myself, they can do whatever they want next year. If they want to sign Seags, if they want to sign [Cody Bellinger], if they want to sign Walker, they have a chance to do all of that because of the position he put them in. So, I just feel like not every team can tank like that and expect to be good.”
On when he was convinced of Friedman’s philosophies: “I think over probably the last, like, two years, really. It’s not that I didn’t think he was great at what he did. I just didn’t really pay much attention. I was just like, ‘I’ll just show up. We’re going to be good and make the playoffs.’
Then you start seeing other teams around you having to go through like these waves and it’s just impressive what he does. I mean, it’s — he doesn’t miss on too many draft picks and then the guys he puts in place for development — because it’s an organizational thing, right? Just because you draft somebody that’s really good, you have to have people that make him good in five years to help us.
And so when you see guys like Tony Gonsolin, like that, to me, is what a prospect should look like coming up. he’s got three or four plus pitches, has the ability to start and go six innings, seven innings and has the potential to be a number one or two starter in the big leagues, I believe that. Then you got Walker, who, obviously, is an ace. Dustin [May] has the stuff. Julio [Urìas] is coming into his own. Julio’s unbelievable. The fact that you can churn out starting pitching like that is, obviously, Andrew, but a testament to everybody in that organization.”
On if he thinks the season will start on time: “I don’t know. I want — 162 games is great. I want to do that. But I also want fans in the stands and I want more time for the vaccine to come in and different things. So, I mean, if we push it back a couple of weeks, a month or something and mix in some doubleheaders and then potentially see where we’re at in October for the playoffs and if it’s cold weather teams, maybe go somewhere again or something like — I’m great with all that.
“But if they really think we can get it done and we can start going . . . I just know the way L.A. is right now, California in general. I know the way New York is and different things. It would be kind of unfair to play in Texas and they have 15,000 fans and then play in California and New York, have no fans for the first couple of months or however long.
“It’s more fun to have fans, so I’d be willing to wait for fans. At least families, right? Families for the games. Yeah, I’m all for playing a full season, but I think there’s maybe some creative ways to do it.”
On if he worries that some players won’t take a COVID-19 vaccine: I think everybody’s going to have a different opinion on that stuff, which I’m fine with. Everybody’s got their own thoughts and different things on the vaccine. Myself, personally, I’m going to take it whenever I get that opportunity and I feel good about it. And as more people do it on the team, it’s just the better your team has of making it through the season, so honestly I don’t know where we’re going to be. We might be all over the map, which is fine, but I’ll line up for it. I’ll get it.”
On when he knew he wanted to be an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement: Over the quarantine, over the summer. Like May, June. Started texting with different guys and right around Juneteenth, really, when I put out that statement. It’s true. I didn’t really understand it. I said it the other day, but the systemic racism, what that actually means, I thought you were either racist or you weren’t and I thought that it was kind of as simple as that. And it’s just not black and white — no pun intended.
And then figuring out if my kid doesn’t have the same opportunities as a black kid because of the color of their skin, that’s not right. And how do you change that? What do you do? I don’t have the answers, but what I do know is you can support as best you can and be vocal about it with different things and maybe it’s something that I’m, not necessarily great at because I’ve never been like a vocal guy, maybe, potentially, but talking with Mookie, talking with David [Price] over texts, it’s just something that’s important.
Talking with Matt Kemp, talking with Dee Gordon, different guys that I’ve played with, it’s different for them. And understanding why that is and then understanding that they feel that and it’s not going to change because it hasn’t just because they talk about it and white guys need to talk about it, too. I believe that.
On if he feels vindicated for winning the World Series: “Vindicated makes it seem like personal. I guess not like proving you guys wrong. It’s not that. I think relief is the right word. And then from there you feel the joy and the satisfaction and things like that.
“This was a long time coming and the Dodgers have put some good teams out there. We’ve been in the World Series three out of four years. 2017, I don’t really count. It counts but I don’t really like — it could’ve been different. We don’t really know. I don’t think we’ll ever know. But the 2018 Red Sox were better, obviously. But this was our year and we were going to win. And it felt really good to actually do it.”
The 2021 MLB season will again feature seven-inning doubleheaders and runners on second base to start extra innings under approved health protocols.
On why the team was so confident going back to spring training: “We were good. We’ve always been good. but Mookie, Mookie makes a difference, man. Mookie is like . . . you hear people say it all the time, ‘Oh, all the little stuff is great.’ No, it’s not true. Mookie’s skilled. Mookie’s really good at hitting and really good at fielding and really good at throwing. He’s the best in the game at all that stuff combined.
“But then you add on top of that, like, he scored two runs from third base [in the postseason] that not many people score. And he makes plays defensively that not many people make. And then his hitting, his on-base, he doesn’t strike out, all that stuff. All that encompassing is what makes him. Obviously, it starts with his talent but all that other stuff separates him.”
On the people who say the Dodgers’ championship deserves an asterisk because it was a shortened season: “I don’t think that’s fair. If anything, it might have been, potentially, harder because over the course of a 162-game season, the best teams really show themselves and we were obviously one of the best teams.
“And so the regular season — we were going to make the playoffs, right? And then the playoffs were even more challenging. It was longer. There were more teams. Different circumstances. Didn’t get necessarily the homefield advantage we would’ve gotten all the way through. So, yeah, I think it was every bit as gratifying. . . . The playoffs, if anything, were a little bit more challenging just because they had that extra round.”
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