Fred Claire

Friday, April 3, 2020
Copyrighted by Sarah Morris, 2020

Although the Los Angeles Dodgers have not honored Fred Claire, Claire had played a crucial role for the Dodgers from 1987 to 1998.

I became a loyal Dodger fan since 1977, but I did not pay attention to their longtime general manager Al Campanis. Campanis was a Minor-League switch-hitting shortstop before moving to the Dodger front office. From 1968 to 1987, Campanis was the Dodger general manager, making four World Series teams in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981. In 1981, the Dodgers finally beat the dreaded New York Yankees to win a world championship.

Campanis even traded his Jim to the Kansas City Royals for two Minor Leaguers. Although many Dodger fans and personnel admired Campanis’ baseball mind, he did not impress me as a kid and young teenager. Perhaps, it was a lack of maturity that caused me not to admire Campanis, but I do not think so. Every baseball fan or professional has a different philosophy from another fan or professional. I think I had a different philosophy from Campanis.

In April 198´7, Major League Baseball celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson breaking the color barrier and beginning the Civil Rights Movement. To celebrate the historical event, the television program, Nightline, had a panel including Campanis. In the 1980s, Major League Baseball had lacked racial diversity in management. Campanis made a stunning racial slur that said blacks did not have the mental capacity to be in management.

Everybody was outraged by Campanis’ racial attitudes. Two days after Campanis’ ill-thought-out racially charged comments, the Dodgers fired him and replaced Campanis with Fred Claire, a former baseball journalist and a longtime member of Dodger public relations staff.

Many Dodger fans were skeptical about Claire’s qualifications to be a Major-League general manager, but I trusted Peter O’Malley’s judgment. Claire could not have done any worse than Campanis.

In 1986, the Dodgers were a poor team, and in 1987, they did not improve their play though Claire added both enthusiastic Mickey Hatcher and a center fielder John Shelby. The Dodgers did not have good offense and defense. Their pitching staff featuring Bobby Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, and Rick Honeycutt was the best aspect of the team, and the team did not have a reliable closer when Steve Howe’s drug addiction prevented from him preforming for the Dodgers.

If Claire did not make major improvements before the 1988 season, the Dodgers would not have been competitive in 1988. Claire needed to make improvements creatively. In 1987, Claire traded Honeycutt to the Oakland Athletics for a player to be named, who was a rookie right-hander Tim Belcher. In the 1987-1988 postseason, Claire signed a left-handed reliever for Jesse Orosco. Claire traded the popular homegrown right-handed Bobby Welch to the Athletics for right-reliever Jay Howell and shortstop Alfredo Griffin. Claire signed free agents Mike Davis and Kirk Gibson. He invited veteran Rick Dempsey.

No one thought the Dodgers would win anything in 1988. The 1988 Dodgers were a Cinderella team with Tinkerbell on their shoulder.
Although Claire did not have another World Series team, Claire always tried to make moves designed to improve the team. Of course, I did not always agree with Claire. When he signed Brett Butler, I cheered since Butler was a large thorn in the Dodger side whenever the Dodgers played his team. I thought Claire made a big mistake when he signed Darryl Strawberry who had a history having drug addiction problems. I hated it when he traded Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields. I thought Claire was brilliant to give both Eric Karros and Mike Piazza contracts to avoid arbitration.

I felt Fox mistreated Claire when a TV executive traded Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnston, and Jim Eisenreich

A month after the bad trade with the Marlins, Fox Corp fired both Claire and manager Bill Russell.

In his retirement, Clare wrote an occasional column for Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He has taught sports management classes at Caltech. He had skin cancer, and now he tries to raise money for City of Hope. For the last nineteen years, I have known Claire who is a classy gentleman.

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