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It began as one of the saddest days of my 30 years in Dodger blue, but I never dreamed it would deteriorate further, ending as my last day in Dodger blue.
It was Father's Day, June 21, 1998, a family day, but, as the general manager of the Dodgers, I felt an obligation to be with the team whenever possible. And so there I was on that Sunday, in a visiting suite at Denver's Coors Field, watching from above as the Dodgers concluded a series against the Colorado Rockies.
It hadn't been an easy trip. Or an easy season. The trading a month earlier of catcher Mike Piazza, one of the most popular players in team history, had sent shock waves through the organization that would reverberate for years to come.
I was trying to stabilize a very shaky situation. When a general manager makes a bad trade, his spirit is damaged. When a trade is made without the knowledge of the general manager, his credibility is shattered.
When I learned after the fact from team president Bob Graziano that Piazza had been sent to the Florida Marlins as part of a seven-player deal, I decided to resign. But Graziano and Fox executive Chase Carey assured me the Piazza deal was an aberration, that I had not been stripped of any power, that I was still a key figure in the team's future.
I didn't want to walk out at such a dark time in Dodger history. I didn't want to turn my back on the team I had been so instrumental in building throughout the previous dozen years.
So, I agreed to stay and see if I could repair the damage. But damage control was no easy task.
With losses in San Diego in the first two games of the trip, and another in the three previous games at Coors, the Dodgers stood at 36-37 starting play on that Sunday in late June, which left the club in third place, 111/2 games out.
The continuing instability on the field wasn't my only concern on that trip to Denver.
On Friday night, as we were beating the Rockies, 4-3 in 10 innings, our publicity director, Derrick Hall, told me there was a story by Baseball Weekly writer Bob Nightengale circulating in the press box that claimed Whitey Herzog was to be named Dodger manager on Monday, replacing Bill Russell.
Normally, I could dismiss a report like that in a minute. But it was Nightengale who had broken the story earlier in the season of trade talk between the Dodgers and the Seattle Mariners involving their ace lefthander, Randy Johnson. That was interesting, since the only Dodger official who had any advance knowledge of that potential deal was Graziano.
Did Nightengale have a pipeline to Graziano? And was it possible that pipeline was again flowing with accurate information?
It was hard to believe the position I suddenly found myself in after three decades of being on top of everything Dodger related. Here I was, unable to comfortably dismiss a story having to do with a possible change in Dodger managers.
I tried to reach Graziano during that Friday night game, but was unsuccessful.
At that point, my gut reaction was to simply say the story wasn't true. If it turned out to indeed be true, it would be the last time I would tolerate a key Dodger personnel move coming my way from an outside party.
As it turned out, the Nightengale story was apparently a rehash of something he had written in Baseball Weekly the week before.
On Saturday, there was more unsettling news, and this time, there was no questioning its accuracy.
Talking by phone to our farm director, Charlie Blaney, I learned that Graziano had inquired about the weekend schedule of Glenn Hoffman, manager of our Triple A team in Albuquerque. Perhaps Bob was planning a trip to see the Albuquerque team. If so, he hadn't told his general manager about it.
Bob finally returned the calls I had made to his home Friday night on Saturday, reaching me at my hotel in Denver.
With the team returning home after Sunday's game, Bob and I agreed to meet Monday to discuss Russell's status and also plans for the payroll. Earlier, Graziano and I had agreed to discuss Russell's status at the All-Star break coming up in a few weeks. Graziano's timetable had obviously changed. I felt our sense of direction related to the payroll needed to be defined.
If there was another item to be added to the agenda, Bob didn't tell me on that Saturday.
On Sunday, with righthander Chan Ho Park on the mound for the finale of the series, we were struggling again, but it was hard for me to keep my mind on the game.
The day had begun pleasantly enough with a call to my daughter Jennifer at her Claremont apartment to wish her a happy 35th birthday. She used the occasion to wish me a happy Father's Day.
But the happiness soon faded.
The next call came from Eric Tracy, a Los Angeles radio reporter for KFWB.
"Al Campanis passed away last night," he told me, having learned the sad news from one of Al's neighbors, who also worked for KFWB.
The news was just about to break, and Eric wanted to know if he could get my response on tape. We made arrangements for Eric to call me back a little later.
When he did, I told Eric, as I told others that day, that Al Campanis, who had risen from player to general manager in the Dodger organization, was a man who devoted his life to his family and to baseball. His dedication to both knew no bounds. I had always respected Al as a baseball man, valued him as a friend and treasured the support he had shown me.
Al told me on a number of occasions that, when the Dodgers were discussing the idea of hiring me in 1969, he had enthusiastically endorsed me.
My life was inextricably tied to his. I had become the Dodger general manager only because of Al's unfortunate remarks on Nightline in 1987 that had cost him his job.
But beyond personal considerations, I felt the loss of one of the steadiest and oldest links to the Brooklyn years. I thought of this tragic news as the passing of an era.
How ironic considering that my own era would pass as well in just a few hours.
I first became concerned about my own fate in the eighth inning of a game we would go on to lose 11-6. Derrick Hall entered my box to inform me Graziano wanted me to call him at home.
With this being the finale of the series, I would be accompanying the team home that night. Bob asked if I could make a detour upon landing and come to Dodger Stadium for a meeting with him and Peter O'Malley before heading for my house. Bob also asked about Russell's schedule. I told Bob I assumed Bill would be heading to his Glendale home once we arrived at LAX.
A Sunday night meeting after a week away sounded awfully important, but I didn't push for details.
Still, I couldn't quite get it out of my mind. The team was struggling, the media was questioning the team's direction under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Group and the fans were restless and unhappy after the Piazza trade.
So it might be time to designate a scapegoat.
Had they decided to fire manager Bill Russell?
Or had they decided to fire both Russell and the general manager?
The normal postgame routine-the clubhouse meal, the showers, the sprint through autograph seekers to the bus, the banter on the way to the airport, the flight home to the accompaniment of shuffling cards--was all so familiar to me. I had been through it on hundreds of trips before, trips highlighted by noisy celebrations after big victories or deadened by the pall of devastating defeats. But this time, it all seemed to drag on so agonizingly.
When we landed, I and my wife, Sheryl, who had accompanied me on the trip, got into the sedan of Stan Kilpatrick, a driver who had driven us to and from the airport for years and had become a loyal friend in the process. On happier trips, there had been many pleasant conversations with Stan, but, on this night, it was quiet and tense as we drove.
When we pulled into parking lot 5 at the stadium, I got out and asked Stan to take Sheryl on to our home in Pasadena. A few scattered lights bathed the empty field in a beautiful glow. But the lights were on in many of the offices, a rare occurrence on a Sunday night with the team having been away.
I walked into Bob's office, but he said we would be meeting in Peter O'Malley's office. Peter was there awaiting us. There was little small talk about the team or the road trip. There obviously was a point to this meeting and Bob got right to it.
"We've decided to make a change in managers," he said, "and we are going to replace Bill Russell with Glenn Hoffman."
Then the other shoe hit the floor with a thud that shook my very being.
"Also, Fred," Bob continued, "I can't recommend you on a go-forward basis at the end of the season, and thus, I've decided to make Tommy Lasorda the interim general manager. Tommy will help us locate a permanent general manager."
At the age of 62, after a lifetime of steady employment in an unsteady field, I had just been fired for the first time. That I had lasted so long didn't lessen the blow, ease the pain or soften my resolve to maintain my dignity and my convictions.
Especially when Bob followed up his bombshell with a truly bizarre offer.
"We will pay off your contract," he said, "but if you would like to stay during a period of transition to assist Tommy, we would welcome that."
"If I stay for this period of transition," I asked Bob, "will I be compensated for it?"
"Oh no," he said, "you won't be paid additionally."
"In other words," I said, having trouble grasping the logic here, "I can come to work tomorrow, or Sheryl and I can go play golf tomorrow and I will be paid the same amount either way. Is that correct?"
"Bob, the only thing I really need to know," I said, the shock turning to anger, "is when I'll have a chance to clean out my office."
Mixed in with the anger was amazement that Peter had been present for the meeting. And that it had taken place in Peter's office. I had advised Peter for 30 years. If I had been asked about this meeting in advance-obviously I wasn't going to be-I would have told Peter not to get involved. I felt this was totally a Graziano-Fox move, not one where Peter should be present.
But, for one of the few times in three decades, Peter had not sought my advice.
I turned, went into my office and immediately called Sheryl.
"Are you sitting down?" I asked her.
"Why?" she said.
"I've just been fired. Would you come to Dodger Stadium and pick me up. We're going home."
"I'll be right there, Sweets," Sheryl replied.
Somehow, with her words, I knew there would be life after the Dodgers.
I left word with the guard at the Elysian Park entrance to ring me when Sheryl came through so she wouldn't have to come into the office. When the call came, I walked out through the glass doors at the entrance to the offices into a scene I'll never forget. At the top of the ramp leading to the parking lot was Sheryl's jeep. At the bottom was Bill Russell's car. He and his wife, Susan, had just pulled up in response to the call he had gotten at home from Graziano a half hour earlier.
Sheryl and I paused to embrace and then we walked down to the Russells. I told Bill I had just been fired and that Tommy was my replacement.
"They fired you?" Bill repeated, shock on his face as the words sunk in.
It all seemed so unreal, Bill and I with 60 years of Dodger blue between us, standing in the deserted Dodger Stadium parking lot on our last night in the organization, the lights from our cars reflecting off the trees and hills to provide the only illumination on this dark moment in our lives.
"What about me?" asked Bill, pessimism in his voice.
"In all fairness," I said, knowing full well there was no fairness in this whole deal, "I think it's better if Bob and Peter tell you what's happening."
Bill didn't have to be told.
As he looked around in the darkness, as if in search of a ray of hope, Bill spotted Tommy's car.
"I'm not going in that office if he's here," Bill said firmly.
At that moment, Derrick Hall came out looking for Bill. I asked Derrick to please make sure Tommy wasn't in Peter's office.
I didn't think he would be, but, on this night, there were no sure bets.
"I'm proud to have worked with you for 30 years," I told Bill. "You don't deserve what is happening."
Dodger Stadium had long seemed like home to me, but, deep down, I always knew there is a difference between where you work and where you live. It's just that the lines get blurred at times when you devote most of your life to a job.
I got into the passenger side of Sheryl's jeep and she got behind the wheel and began making the drive down from Dodger Stadium to the freeway below, a short drive I had made thousands of times in the previous 30 years.
I didn't look back, instead staring straight ahead as I realized I would never again have the same warm feeling about that drive.
Posted May 24, 2011
Being an Dodgers draft pick and player in their minor league system for 5 years, this was an interesting look into how things really work in the front office of an MLB organization. Mr. Claire does an unbelievable job of telling it just like it was without trying to make himself look good or bashing people along the way. The most interesting thing about this book was how he was able to capture the exact feeling around the organization as soon as the idiots from FOX took over. I was drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June of 1998, just days before Mr. Claire was fired. I spent my 1st Summer in Professional Baseball in an organization that still had the feel of a family. All the old-school Dodgers were still coaching, including Mike Scioscia, Mickey Hatcher "Hatch", John "T-Bone" Shelby and many others. It was the most fun I ever had as a Baseball Player in my entire life. Then in 1999 the whole thing came unraveled with FOX and the arrogant attitude and people they brought into the organization & for me, the Minor League system. Every Veteran I spoke with during my 1st Spring Training in 1999 told me that Fred Claire and the "old school" Dodgers front office and coaches were the best people a player could ever hope to play for. The new regime was totally classless & clueless, treating no one with the respect they deserved. This book brought me back to some great memories as a kid who grew up a Dodgers fan in the mid-to late 80's when Mr. Claire had taken the job as GM. It also brought me back to my playing days for an organization that once was great and was now being totally mismanaged by FOX and the arrogant people they hired to run things on the field and off. A Great book, I recommend for anyone who loves the Dodgers or the game of Baseball....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 18, 2010
"Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." Great read. Fred who began his baseball career as a sports writer teams up with LA Times writer Steve Springer for a tightly written look at one man's stay in the bigs. It's a great baseball book. What I found interesting is how it relates to sports marketing. Fred has taught sports marketing at USC. His book chronicles his trip around the bases with the O'Malley family business until he is slapped out at home plate by global behemoth Rupert Murdoch. It's a good look at how to manage people, the human resource in sports. How deals get done. How Dodger Blue was invented and team branding with it. It's a book about how the modern sports franchise earns respect and the dignity that follows.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2010
This is a great gift idea for any Dodger fan, I worked in the ticket office for the Dodgers in the mid 70s and I learned a great deal about the orgnanization that I never realized, you almost feel like you were there. A class book by a class guy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 24, 2009
This book is a must read for any Dodgers fan. It provides a great perspective from Fred Claire's role as Dodger GM. Lots of interesting details and insight the common fan would not know unless reading this book. Well written and organized. All I expected and more!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 8, 2008
For a Dodger fan, this a must read. Mr. Claire sheds light on what was a bright past. All the things that made the Dodgers what they were.The close knit ,family run orginization. Also lets us in on how he sculpted the teams of the 80s and 90s. The decisions that brought us Kirk Gibson and a 1988 World Championship. The book also explains, in never heard before detail, the abrupt end to his 30 years with the club. And what stikes me the most is he does not used the book to take cheap shots at the orginization or people who turned their back on him. What a classy move from a classy man! I loved the book. What an interesting and easy read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2007
In Fred Claire's book, 'My 30 Years in Dodger Blue, the former Los Angeles general manager give readers an up close and personal view of the game. He takes you into the inner confines of a big league organization and teaches how the game really operates. His book is an entertaining and informative look at baseball written in an easy to read, extremely interesting manner. After reading this book, even the most dedicated baseball fan will walk away with a much greater knowledge of the game. This is a must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 4, 2006
Fred Claire¿s story is a virtual travelogue of 30 years of baseball history, a blast for anyone who loves baseball, especially Dodger fans. He brings a variety of perspectives to his story, falling for the game as a boy in Ohio, covering the game as a beat writer for the Angels and Dodgers, becoming an insider as the Dodgers¿ publicity director, and building a world championship club as a general manager. Along the way, Claire recounts unforgettable stories, everything from his own one-game Spring Training ¿tryout¿ to signing World Series hero Kirk Gibson, from the release of Orel Hershiser to the day Tommy Lasorda nearly gave up bleeding Dodger Blue to join George Steinbrenner¿s Yankees. Claire also shares a behind-the-scenes look into the business side of baseball, tracing the Dodgers¿ evolution from a family-owned business under the legendary O¿Malley family to a piece of Rupert Murdoch¿s Fox empire. Claire remains connected to the game through a radio show and column for MLB.com. If you¿ve heard or read his work there, ¿My 30 Years in Dodger Blue¿ won¿t disappoint.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 31, 2006
I recently purchased this book and I must say that I enjoyed reading every page of it. I have been a Dodgers fan since 1982. It was the day the Dodgers were out of the playoff picture on Joe Morgan's HR in S.F., and it was also the day my blood ran Dodger Blue. Twenty four years later, my blood still runs Dodger Blue! In this book, Fred Claire clearly shed light on what occured behind the scences that I, as a fan, was not aware of, or perplexed at the time of the incidents. He also cleared up many of the questions that I had about the FOX deal, more particularly the Piazza trade. I don't blame him for what happened, as I previously did at the time. He made me feel as if I were part of the whole deal and now I understand the complexity of the situation more clearly. He could not have been more candid as he was in the book. It is a must read book for anyone!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 7, 2005
If you are a Dodger fan, this book is definitely the book to read! It will give you many insight stories of Dodger's history. I personally have been inspiried by Fred's great dedication to sports. Also, it is a interesting book for those of you who want to be part of the baseball organization. His experience is absoultely helpful!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2005
I have been a baseball enthusiast my entire life. Growing up in Southern California I watched both the Dodgers and Angels. I was aware of who Fred Claire was as a small child and watched as the Dodger franchise put an excellent product on the field each year under Fred. This book not only shed some light into the dialy activities of a baseball executive, but also helped me, as a hopeful baseball executive, to better understand the daily grind and processes needed to be taken in order to run a franchise efficiently. Fred's book is filled with stories only he can tell, as well as tributes to his legacy as one of the best General Managers in Dodger history. An excellent book for Sport Management college classes and a MUST READ.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2005
This book is excellent! It really shows you sports management from an insider point of view! There are so many obstacles the dodgers have been through that you get an inside look from Fred's perspective. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in baseball, a dodger fan, or anyone interested in sports in general! Fred Claire definitely shows those people reading the books why he made the decisions he did and what he expected/saw the outcome to be! Once again I would recommend this book as it teaches you a lot about the dodgers and how they have become the team they are today!! What better insight than from someone who has experienced it all with the dodgers!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2005
Although I must admit that I am not a baseball fan, I was pretty amazed by this book. First of all, all the politics and power struggles that goes on behind closed doors among the people working at Dodger Stadium was extremely surprising. It really opened up the complexity of baseball (the ins and outs of managing a team, trading players, negotiating contracts, etc.) of which I was previously completely unaware. Also, although it would be expected for Fred Claire to come off distant, angry, or even bitter about his ending with the Dodgers, the writing style was very objective. Not too objective to where the meaning and perspective is lost, but it really lets the reader come to their own opinion about the Dodger administration. Over all, a great read for a Dodger fan- or not! - Fred Claire has a very insightful story to tell, and he does it quite well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2005
Althought I must admit that I am not really a baseball fan, this book really caught my attention- as I was unaware of the corporate politics floating around the Dodger Stadium. With the first and last chapters discussing his last night in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium, Fred Claire really gives you a peak inside his management career- though not in an obtrusive way. Although one may assume his bitterness or resentment in his firing, Claire never lets that get through in the story, really allowing the reader to get the full picture. His objective writing style and love of baseball really come through in this read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 11, 2004
For those who were diehard Dodger fans and attended games at Dodger Stadium during the period Fred describes, pleasant memories of a family tradition and business are recalled. Alas, like 'Gone with the Wind,' this poignant period has slipped into history. I encourage those who attend the Dodger Adult baseball camp to buy this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 19, 2004
Fred Claire writes a great review of his very successful tenure as the Dodgers Exec. VP/GM. As a former employee during his tenure, it is especially enlightening. If you like baseball AND you like the Dodgers, you need to read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 11, 2004
This is one of the best books for fans of the Dodgers or baseball. If you watched baseball in the 1980's and 1990's, you probably remember Fred Claire as Mr. Dodger. He was the figure of class and dignity that became the face of the Dodgers. From pre-Curt Flood to post 1994 strike and beyond, Claire was a part of the Dodgers organization. The book details how Claire got his start in baseball. He began working as a beat writer before taking the position of Director of Publicity with the Dodgers. In 1987, long-time general manager Al Campanis's gave some unfortunate remarks on ABC's Nightline. Within days, Campanis's hand picked successor was Claire. The book gives many fascinating details about long-time Dodger managers Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda. There are a couple great sections on trades and free agent signings by the Dodgers during Claire's tenure. Needless to say once I started the book, I could not put it down. The one thing I noticed throughout the book was how Claire handled every situation good or bad with class. Things ran smoothly for so many years for the Dodgers organization. Trade and contract negotiations were held behind closed doors instead of in the media. From the man who drove Claire to the airport to Mr. O'Malley, everyone was treated the same. The latter fourth of the book details the events leading up to Claire's dismissal from the new Fox Dodgers. The Mike Piazza trade and his final trade involving Hideo Nomo. From working as a beat reporter to General Manager of the Dodgers to working for the new Dodger owners Fox. Claire handled every situation with humility and grace. Claire's story is a must read for anyone looking to get into the game or simply wanting to know more about the inner workings of a Major League Baseball team. By the end of the book, you will feel like you know Fred Claire. And, if that's the closest you get to the man than you are a lucky person.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2004
Fred Claire's autobiography 'My 30 Years in Dodger Blue' fits so perfectly among my sports collection because it covers every important phase of Major League baseball in Los Angeles in the earliest days of my sports writing experience. In recent years, I wondered whether or not being a 'true blue' baseball fan was worth all of the frustrations down through the years but I can honestly say that Fred's book gives me a greater sense of pride that I have always been a Dodger fan.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 3, 2004
Fred Claire is a class individual who was treated in a very unclassy manner by the powers that were in the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership. In 'My 30 Years In Dodger Blue' Fred does not attempt to mask his hurt and disappointment, but that is far overshadowed by the insight he provides the reader into the goings-on in baseball's top management, as well as a peek into the interpersonal relationships of some of the game's biggest names. Fred Claire started his Dodger career as a rookie publicity man and rose to become General Manager. He addresses that climb with uncommon candor, pointing out his failures as well as successes, but the bottom line is that he helped put together a team that won the World Series in 1988.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2004
If you love baseball and would like to know the inside story of one of the greatest franchises in the history of Major League Baseball, then Fred Claire's wonderful book, 'My 30 Years in Dodger Blue' is for you. The incredible story of his career path from sportswriteer to General Manager is fascinating. His anecdotes of of the great Dodger players of his era and the behind the scenes negotiations with agents and other general managers is riveting. The lessons learned from this outstanding book are extemely valuable. Claire did his job for over 30 years with diligence and integrity, something I will try to emulate in both my personal life and professional career. In fact, this book was so excellent, I bought one for myself and another as a gift!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 11, 2004
Fred Claire provides a great behind-the-scenes look into this once-proud organization. Rather than take shots at those who kicked him out the door after 30 years of loyal service, Mr. Claire displays the same class and dignity that exemplified the pre-Fox Dodgers. I enjoyed the book very much and, like many others in the true Dodger fraternity, have not felt the same about the organization since that fateful day in March 1998 when Fox took over. Is it any wonder that the post-Claire Dodgers have yet to visit the post-season?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.