Column: Welcome back, Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers needed their most-loved player to win big

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks in September.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When Los Angeles last saw Clayton Kershaw, he was slowly dragging himself off the pitching mound on a sullen Friday night in October.

It was only the second inning. His shoulders were slumped. His left elbow was screaming. His season was done. His Dodgers career was seemingly finished.

Observers convinced of this finality ominously noted that, instead of executing the traditional handoff to manager Dave Roberts, Kershaw kept the baseball for himself.


All of which makes it very cool that on a glorious Friday five months later, he decided to bring it back.

Sigh. Whew. Yay! Kershaw is still a Dodger, the free agent future Hall-of-Famer avoiding the romance of his hometown Texas Rangers to return to Chavez Ravine for a one-year deal worth $17 million plus incentives.

Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw will remain with the only franchise he’s ever played for after agreeing to a one-year deal Friday.

March 11, 2022

He’s back, for a 15th season, keeping alive a Kobe-Bryant type run that could keep him a Dodger for life.

He’s back, at soon-to-be age 34, for one year that could be his last year, this contract possibly ending in a statue.

He’s back, that rare Los Angeles athlete who has stuck around for the complete evolution of a memorable career, from young ace to playoff loser to World Series champion to battered but beloved veteran.

He’s not back as a savior. He’s not even back as a top-two starter. He’s back with elbow uncertainty, an aging body, and a pay cut of up to $14 million.


Kershaw won’t be adding to his record nine opening day starts — that torch has been passed to Walker Buehler — and he could start the season on the injured list while still recovering from last October’s significant elbow injury.

But, goodness, he’s back, and guess who’s getting the loudest cheers when his team makes its first appearance at Dodger Stadium? Guess whose potential loss greatly troubled most Dodgers fans this winter, even those who appropriately booed him during all those previous October meltdowns?

Clayton Kershaw is loved more than any current player, and his return was vital to the team’s connection with the community, and he’ll be worth the $17 million in sentiment and symbolism alone.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw takes in the scene before Game 1 of the NLCS in Atlanta last season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

But make no mistake. This was more than a possible Kobe-retirement contract. This was more than a potential parting gift. The Dodgers’ front office doesn’t shed tears, they crunch numbers, and Kershaw doesn’t shed tears, he’s throws curveballs, and, in this case, the bottom line is far bolder than the headline.

With a starting pitching staff weakened by suspension and defection, the Dodgers need Kershaw.


With a future uncertain by age and injury, Kershaw needs the Dodgers.

The Dodgers have basically two proven championship starters in Buehler and Julio Urías. They lost Max Scherzer to the New York Mets. They continue to lose Trevor Bauer to baseball’s domestic violence penalties, as he was placed on at least another week of administrative leave Friday and will likely be eventually suspended or cut.

They need veteran arms, particularly October arms, and if nothing else, if he can stay healthy during what will surely be a protected regular season, Kershaw will give them that.

“It’s not just what he’s meant looking back, it’s also what we think he will do for our championship odds in ’22,” said Dodgers’ baseball boss Andrew Friedman to reporters this winter.

As for Kershaw, because he’s still recovering from the elbow injury, this deal allows him to rehabilitate in a comfortable environment without pressure while giving him a chance to prove his resilience for future suitors.

Last year he had his highest ERA (3.55) since his rookie season while making just 22 starts in a summer wracked by injury. If he does want to eventually want to return to his hometown Texas Rangers on solid footing, a strong season here would allow him to do so.

The one-year deal gives both parties a needed jolt, even if Kershaw is the fourth starter who doesn’t take the mound until May, especially if he spends the season basically getting ready for the playoffs.


Major League Baseball has put Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer on administrative through March 19.

March 11, 2022

Of course, who knows, in a perfect scenario, it could lead to that lifetime stay with one team that has become so rare in this era of free agency. Among Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitchers, his retirement here would forever put him in the company of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, his No. 22 holding special meaning as it shines from that Dodger Stadium wall.

And, finally, after years of fretting over his postseason troubles, Dodgers fans finally seem to want Kershaw back.

They’ve booed him. They questioned him. But, finally, it seems, most are sold on him. He’s won them a World Series. He’s given them a consistent icon. He’s introduced them to, “We Are Young.”

After he left the mound early and injured on that long-ago October night against the Milwaukee Brewers, Roberts openly fretted that everyone was seeing him in Dodgers’ uniform for the last time.

“It was difficult, it was his last home start, you just don’t know what the future will predict, so I wanted it to be special for him and his family,” Roberts said at the time. “It didn’t end the way we hoped.”

Turns out, it hasn’t ended at all.

The Dodgers have retained their rock. Clayton Kershaw is back.