Fans and pundits tend to make a lot of hay about the crazy money awarded in professional sports contracts. Certainly, some of the figures that get tossed around are astonishing, especially when you consider who they’re being offered to. It certainly lends itself to heated discussions around water coolers, inside man caves, and in sports bars.
But it’s not smart to drastically limit the amount of cash that’s offered in any given sports contract. Think about it: if clubs were unable to offer exorbitant sums of money to free agents, who would ever want to play for the Cubs?
That said, money isn’t the only thing that teams can offer potential players. Some have the advantage of living in a tax-friendly state. Others offer the exciting social life that comes with being in a major city. Weather, fan base, cost of living and (for cross-border transactions) language are other intangibles that can be highlighted during contract negotiations.
However, for some people, intangibles simply aren’t enough. They demand additional perks, requirements, or types of compensation. So management must to be able to cater to the individual’s needs, desires, and eccentricities. As a result, contracts are often stuffed with incentive clauses, no-trade provisos, or alternate sources of income in order to sweeten the pot.
For a select few prospects, however, GMs and owners are forced to think outside the box. They have to act like concert venue managers who must bend to the will of flaky musical artists and their imaginative riders. They must handle unusual logistics, check with their legal departments, and somehow insert language into a contract that will protect the club while satisfying the player or coach.
Here are a dozen of some of the craziest, most unusual provisions ever include in sports contracts. As you read these, try to imagine the expression on your boss’s face if you tried to ask for these in your employment contract.
12. Roy Oswalt – Pitcher, Houston Astros: a Bulldozer
In his prime, Roy Oswalt could certainly “bulldoze” opposing batters. He won at least 20 games in both 2004 and 2005 for the Astros, putting them on the doorstep of their first World Series appearance ever. All Houston had to do was to get past the St. Louis Cardinals, and Astros owner Drayton McLane knew that his ace would play a big role. So McLane promised Oswalt that the player would receive his dream “toy” if he came through during the NLCS. Oswalt responded by becoming the series MVP, and McLane made good on his vow. But Oswalt had to sign an addendum to his contract to get his very own Caterpillar D6N XL bulldozer.
11. A.J. Burnett – Pitcher, Toronto Maple Leafs: Limousine Rides
A.J. Burnett is an excellent hurler, but he’s also apparently a family man as well. Back when he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent prior to the 2006 season, Burnett wanted to ensure that his wife would be able to see him pitch. But the Burnetts lived in Monkton, Maryland at the time, which was about 7 1/2 hours away by car from where the Jays played. No worries. Burnett stipulated that his wife receive eight round-trip limo rides from their home to Toronto each season. That’s about 7,000 miles of luxurious transport per year.
10. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Pitcher, Boston Red Sox: a “New American” Pack
It’s not uncommon for foreign players (especially Japanese ones) to need a little extra assistance once they make the move to the U.S. That said, “Dice K’s” contract when he signed with the Boston Red Sox still pushes the limits of credulity. In addition to (fairly standard) allowances for moving expenses, housing, and a personal vehicle, Matsuzaka also received the aid of a Sox staff member to help deal with Japanese media, a Japanese-English interpreter, a physical therapist, and a massage therapist. That’s an entourage that rivals that of Jay-Z.
9. Rolf-Christel Guié-Mien – Midfielder, Eintracht Frankfurt (German Bundesliga): Cooking Courses
Let’s go from the diamond to the pitch. Soccer is certainly known for many of its colorful characters worldwide. It’s also unique in the number of players who compete for teams in countries other than the ones they were born in. For example, Rolf-Christel Guié-Mien (international soccer’s quadruple-named counterpart to the NFL’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis, perhaps?) is a midfielder who was born in the Congo but spent his soccer career in Germany. The Guardian newspaper claims that Guié-Mien wouldn’t sign with Eintracht Frankfurt unless it was put in the contract that his wife would receive complimentary cooking classes. We assume that this clause came with her blessing (but we’re not entirely sure).
8. Giuseppe Reina – Striker, Arminia Bielefeld (German Bundesliga): a House a Year
In the soccer world, strikers can be notoriously eccentric. One example is Reina, who notched 43 goals in his nine seasons in the Bundesliga with three different clubs. His first contract was with perennial yo-yo club Arminia Bielefeld in 1996. According to The Guardian, a proviso in Reina’s contract stipulated that Arminia Bielefeld build him one house for every year of his contract. He would up spending four seasons with the club; but because the contract language was vague, there’s no word on how big any of the houses were.
7. George Koch – Goalkeeper, PSV Eindhoven (Dutch Eredivisie): Get-out-of-town Free Card
There are some ideas which are sound in principle but may not really belong in pro sports contracts. Koch, a German-born player who spent the vast majority of his career in German soccer leagues, decided to give Dutch soccer a try when he signed a contract with PSV, a top-tier side in the Netherlands, in 1997. But Koch insisted that a stipulation be inserted to his contract that he could leave the club immediately if he were ever subject to any racist hostility. Since the Dutch aren’t exactly buddies with the Germans, this hostility clause was invoked after three matches and Koch fled back home. Ironically, Koch suffered even more harm while playing in Austria in 2008; while in net, some rowdy fans tossed a firecracker onto the pitch, and it exploded near Koch’s ear. The subsequent problems that this injury caused led Koch to retire from soccer the following year.
6. Sam Hammam – Owner, Wimbledon FC (English First Division): Lineup Veto Power
Here’s a three-word description of the Lebanese businessman, Sam Hammam: soccer’s Jerry Jones. He’s now holding a life presidency at Cardiff City, but he purchased a controlling interest in Wimbledon FC in the late 1980s. Hammam was known for being quite colorful and controversial; he was known for trying to rile up his players by scrawling insulting messages in their locker room. But when he hired manager Bobby Gould, he left a proviso in place that allowed Hammam the right to change the starting lineup of any match up to 45 minutes before kickoff (reportedly, he never exercised this clause). Sound like a certain Dallas Cowboys’ owner we know?
5. Steve Sarkisian – Head Coach, University of Washington: All Expense-Paid Family Travel
Back to the states we go and the exciting and lucrative world of college football. Not for the players, of course – they don’t (officially) get paid a dime. We’re talking about the head coaches and their multi-million dollar salaries. But many coaches don’t stop at cash when negotiating their contracts. For example, before he made the jump back to USC in December, Sarkisian had arranged for a pretty sweet deal for his family at Washington. As part of his first head coaching contract, Sarkisian demanded that the school foot the bill for his family’s travel to every road game, every postseason event, and up to two business-related excursions. Wonder if he tried to recruit players in Hawaii at least once a year?
4. Mike Leach – Head Coach, Washington State University: Tickets, Tickets, and More Tickets
Another common rider in coaching contracts is the allocation of season tickets for the head coach’s family. But Mike Leach took this a few steps further when he signed on with Wazzou in late 2011. The outspoken, notorious coach required the university to provide his family with an 18-seat suite at Martin Stadium, an additional 20 regular tickets for each home game and bowl game, and a whopping 150 tickets to every Cougar away game. Is that last one so he could buy out as much of the road stadium as possible to minimize the number of fans shouting insults at him during the game?
3. Mike London – Head Coach, University of Virginia: Basketball Tickets
Some head football coaches aren’t satisfied only with tickets to their own games. London, who took the Cavaliers’ head coaching job in 2010, is apparently a college basketball fan as well. That’s because London stipulated that the university provide him with six tickets every year to the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball postseason tournament, (which is being held this year in Greensboro, North Carolina). However, if he’s rooting for his school, he’s likely to remain frustrated – Virginia hasn’t won the men’s ACC tournament since 1976.
2. Mack Brown – Head Coach, University of Texas: Gun Shop Gift Card
We come to the most visible head coaching job in amateur sports in the Lone Star State, which up until a few months ago was held by Mack Brown for sixteen years. When he left North Carolina for the Longhorns after the 1997 season, Brown had a few goodies put into his contract as well. He wanted to be named Chairman of the Board for the University of Texas Golf Club (which comes with a $60,000 salary). It’s not all that surprising that Brown would want access to golf facilities; he can certainly schmooze big-time donors on the course. But in perhaps a one-of-a-kind proviso, Brown also earned a $750 gift card to a gun shop in Austin. Because if you’re going to chat up bigwigs in Texas, you probably should hit the gun ranges as well, right?
1. Charlie Kerfeld – Pitcher, Houston Astros: Jell-O
We’ll end with the sport that tends to see the quirkiest contract clauses: Major League Baseball. This shouldn’t be all that surprising; since baseball players are among the most superstitious athletes out there (don’t step on the baseline!), so it’s somewhat logical that they may ask for some unorthodox forms of compensation. The strangest clause belongs to Charlie Kerfeld, who should surprise nobody by making this list since he always pitched in his “lucky” Jetsons T-shirt. When it was time for his contract renewal, Kerfeld negotiated a deal that was topped off by the awarding of 37 boxes of Jello. No word on which flavors Kerfeld chose.
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