Koufax, Drysdale and great baseball holdout of 1966

When the new baseball season begins on Sunday, player payrolls for the 30 teams in the Major Leagues will total nearly $4 billion, an average of almost $4 million per player.

For the third year in a row, the Dodgers will be shelling out the most money– a bit south of a quarter-billion dollars. Ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw will earn $32 million this year on his own

drysdaleBut the Dodgers weren’t always this giving.

Fifty years ago, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale – the Dodgers’ two biggest stars – shocked their fans and the sports world when they refused to report for spring training, saying they wouldn’t play for the amount the team was offering.  The two future Hall of Famers teamed up to demand $1 million over three years. Not $1 million each, mind you, $1 million to split.

“It wasn’t pretty,” says Los Angeles Times baseball writer Bill Shaikin. “It was the first time that players had gotten together and acted together to in objection to their contracts…Fans were a little nervous and management didn’t like it and it was a very unsettling time because for everybody because nobody really knew how it would end.”

Koufax and Don Drysdale didn’t quite get what they had asked for, although they did receive more than the Dodgers initially offered them for the 1966 season. And the two stars were widely criticized for their actions.

koufaxBut the little-remembered holdout by Koufax and Don Drysdale had a bigger impact than the two players could have ever imagined at the time. Within a few years, baseball ended its reserve clause, which bound players to the teams that had their rights. Agents, arbitration and free agency soon followed. Shaikin says Koufax and Drysdale changed their sport’s economics forever and helped helped lay the foundation for the modern sports landscape: