Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue
As someone who grew up as a Dodger fan and has fond remembrances going back to the team's days in the Los Angeles Coliseum, I found Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue to be extremely interesting, enjoyable, and informative.
From sportswriter to publicity director to executive vice president and general manager, Fred Claire was with the Dodgers for 30 years--a period in which the team won five National League pennants and two World Series championships. Along the way, Fred became the fifth Dodger in the organization's illustrious history to be named Executive of the Year by The Sporting News. The other four? Larry MacPhail (1939), Branch Rickey (1947), Walter O'Malley (1955), and Buzzie Bavasi (1959).
According to Maury Wills, "If you were looking for someone to write a book on Dodger Blue, you couldn't find a more qualified person than Fred Claire."
Claire and Steve Springer, a sportswriter with the Los Angeles Times for the past 20 years, have co-authored a book that is a must read for all Dodger fans. The 205-page book published by Sports Publishing LLC is one that I found difficult to put down as the authors provide an inside look at the ups and downs of Fred's career with the Dodgers.
Ironically, Fred Claire's connection with the Dodgers began in 1969 when he took over the Dodger beat for the Long Beach Press-Telegram after my Dad, who had covered the team since its arrival in Los Angeles in 1958, left to become Director of Public Relations and Promotions with the California Angels.
After just a half season, Claire was hired by the Dodgers as an assistant to Red Patterson, who had been a sportswriter himself back in New York before making the switch to publicity when he joined the Yankees in the 1940s. Fred was promoted to Vice President of Public Relations and Promotions in 1975 when Mr. Patterson was hired by Gene Autry as President of the Angels.
Chapter five, "Nightline Without a Lifeline", details the events on opening day in 1987 when Al Campanis was invited to be a guest on ABC's Nightline to discuss the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Campanis, the Dodger General Manager for nearly two decades, was uniquely qualified to speak at length about Robinson as he had been Jackie's keystone partner and roommate in 1946 when the two played for the Montreal Royals, then the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate.
Campanis' inappropriate comments in response to Ted Koppel's question about the lack of blacks in significant positions of authority in baseball led to his dismissal two days later and Claire was immediately hired as the new Dodger GM.
The following chapter, "Out of a Nightmare, a Dream Job", brings us the following exchange between Claire and Peter O'Malley:
"Peter, you've asked me to take this position and I will take it under one very important condition. That is that I get full, total and complete responsibility for baseball operations. If you don't want this, and you want me to serve as part of a committee until you find a general manager, that is okay with me. But if I have the job, I want the responsibility. If I get run out of town, I want to be sure it's for the right reasons."
Peter looked at Claire and smiled.
"Fred, it's yours. I wouldn't touch that job with a 10-foot pole."
And with that, Claire took over the helm for the next 11 1/2 years until he was fired by Fox on Father's Day in 1998. Claire and Springer share the particulars of that fateful day at the outset of the book in the first chapter entitled "The End". As it turned out, the sale of the Dodgers by the O'Malley family to Fox that spring and the subsequent trade of Mike Piazza without Fred's knowledge was the beginning of the end for the man that Orel Hershiser in his foreward called "the complete professional".
In between his hiring in 1969 and his firing in 1998, Fred Claire experienced a lifetime of memories and he shares them with us in My 30 Years in Dodger Blue. From the O'Malleys to Rupert Murdoch; from Walter Alston to Tommy Lasorda; from Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey to the free agent signings of Kirk Gibson and Darryl Strawberry as well as the trade of Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields, Claire and Springer take you every step of the way.
Like Fred Claire himself, this book is a class act. I devoured it from cover to cover on the first go-round, have read several chapters a second time, and am proud to have it in my baseball book collection.