Fred Claire helped bring Dodger Blue to greatness

The overall message was that we should “view life through the front window and not the rearview” when Fred Claire spoke to a packed house at Claremont Place on Wednesday. Mr. Claire was the Dodger’s general manager from 1988 to 1998, and is the author of My 30 Years in Dodger Blue.

Mr. Claire exemplifies the idea that people can always reinvent themselves. As audience members munched on mini hot dogs, popcorn and Cracker Jacks, Mr. Claire recounted his long career in the sports world.

Born in small-town Ohio, his family moved to Torrance, California where Mr. Claire attended El Camino College before moving on to San Jose State. During his years at San Jose State, the budding journalist submitted a baseball article for a journalism class to Baseball Magazine. Instead of receiving the much-expected rejection letter, he received a check in the mail.

Mr. Claire began reporting on the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969, and quickly became their VP of Public Relations. He invented the “Think Blue” and “Dodger Days” marketing campaigns. Dodger president Peter O’Malley hired him as general manager in 1987, an extraordinary feat considering Mr. Claire started as a reporter.

Mr. Claire took over the team at the right time. Shrewd player acquisitions resulted in the Dodgers beating the Oakland Athletics to win the 1988 World Series, just one year after Mr. Claire took over.

After 10 years under Mr. Claire, the Dodgers were sold to the Fox Network. Controversy duly ensued, as the team traded fan favorites Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins for 4 players. The risky move was made without his consultation, a trade that went entirely against Dodger culture. Mr. Claire refused to take public responsibility for the transaction, and stated his outrage to the press.

The Dodgers let Mr. Claire go, and Tommy Lasorda took his place. Mr. Claire holds no resentment on how he left, remembering his time with the team fondly.

It should be noted, however, that when Claremont resident Larry Goodman asked Mr. Claire, “Who in your opinion is the greatest Dodger ever?” without missing a beat, Mr. Claire quipped, “Vin Scully.”

During his time under President O’Malley, Mr. Claire introduced the flywheel and hedgehog concepts to his players. Flywheel players make the rest of the team turn and change, and hedgehog players grind out results through determination.

In his post-Dodger years, Mr. Claire vowed to keep looking ahead. He has written a book about his Dodger career, and wants to write another giving information to young people about how to break into the sports industry. After applying for a teaching position at USC, and when asked how much he wanted to be paid to teach, he was quite candid. “How about you give me an offer, and whatever it is I will accept it.”

Mr. Claire currently lives in Pasadena, where he serves on the executive boards for the Rose Bowl and the Special Olympics. He has since become involved with the science of baseball analytics, recently portrayed in the Brad Pitt film, Moneyball. He has also partnered with the company Ariball, providing high-tech baseball scouting services with Caltech’s “man of the decade,” Ari Kaplan.

Mr. Claire’s final anecdote of the morning was about his donation of the Dodgers’ “final out” ball to the Hall of Fame. Apparently, only one of these had been donated before; most people lucky enough to catch one hold on to it and pay for their children’s college with it. The 1988 World Series ball was appraised at $50,000, but Mr. Claire felt it belonged in Cooperstown.

He still misses being a part of it all, noting the competition he experienced cannot be replicated. But Mr. Claire is always looking ahead, ready to reinvent himself at a moment’s notice.

Mr. Claire’s book, My 30 Years in Dodger Blue, is available on Amazon and at major book retailers.

—Chris Oakley


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