Fred Claire Rumors
From 1969 until 1998, Fred Claire was a fixture in the Dodgers' front office and for the final eleven years of his time in L.A., Claire manned the club's baseball operations as General Manager. An awful lot has changed in the 15 years since Claire and the team parted ways and the longtime exec took the time to talk to MLBTradeRumors about the current state of the club and his experience at the wheel of one of baseball's most storied franchises.
Of course, the majority of Claire's tenure with the team took place under the ownership of the O'Malley family. He had a most unusual trip to the top of the blue ladder which began when he was covering the team as a beat writer in 1969. When someone in the team's PR department was let go, Claire jumped at the opportunity to link up with the club and he was on his way to a rapid ascent up the ranks.
His baseball knowhow and overall leadership ability put him in position to take over as GM for Al Campanis in 1987, but his time with the club came to an abrupt and bizarre end in 1998. Without Claire's knowledge or consent, the team's new owners - NewsCorp and subsidiary FOX Television - decided to deal franchise cornerstone Mike Piazza and veteran Todd Zeile to the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich, and Bobby Bonilla. If the decision to trade a future Hall of Famer without considerable thought wasn't bad enough, the new owner's decision to cut one of the most experienced executives in the game out of the equation was a whole lot worse.
"It was damaging from the standpoint that the whole decision making process and the structure was so altered. You need to know the responsible person and you need to have the foundation of the decision making process and here the trade was being made by someone who had no background in baseball itself.
"It was basically a trade being made over a TV deal and I thought that was totally unacceptable and that's why when I was called and told that trade needed to be announced I said there would be two announcements. One would be the trade and then after that I would announce my resignation," Claire said.
In an ironic twist, there would be no need for Claire to rush his resignation letter. The "TV executive" who authored the Piazza deal wasn't aware of Sheffield's no-trade clause, which delayed the deal until later in the week. As one might imagine, Claire says the outfielder's no-trade provision was known to everyone in baseball, except for the person who made the deal on L.A.'s behalf.
When Claire made it known to the press that he had nothing to do with trading the catcher to Florida, the Dodgers let him go. Fifteen years later, the club has changed hands twice and is now backed by an ownership group with the biggest war chest in all of baseball. Claire never got the opportunity to work with a seemingly bottomless bank account the way that current GM Ned Colletti is, but it's not something that keeps the soon-to-be 79-year-old up at night.
Before the Guggenheim Group took control of the Dodgers, Claire joined forces with a different bunch - spearheaded by onetime Dodgers batboy Ben Hwang - looking to buy the club. Ultimately, the group headed by another familiar L.A. face won out, but Claire is happy to see the club restored back to prominence after a rough stretch of time under the ownership of Frank McCourt. While things seemed pretty bleak under the much maligned former Dodgers owner, Claire always had confidence that the team would bounce back.
"I was in baseball long enough and saw the changes that can take place. After all, in 1986 and 1987, before we won in '88, if you go back and look at that, we were 16 games under .500 in both of those seasons and next year won the world championship. I always realize that in this game, you can break through..I never felt that I was troubled by what was happening by Frank's ownership in the later years when all the things came up about making payroll and the other things that were taking place.
"That was troubling because it was a very unsettling period for the Dodgers but certainly when the commitment was made by the Guggenheim Group and Magic and company, I never had any doubt that they would back up their words. They paid an enormous sum for the Dodgers and I knew that they made this investment with the intent of backing it up in every way," said Claire.
Under current management, it's safe to say that the Dodgers won't have a hard time coming up with the checks every other week. Some have panned the Dodgers for being a team of tremendous excess, but the team's former GM is quick to note that you can never have too much depth when talking about a 162-game season.
"When you have that type of payroll or that type of financial capability, as far as winning goes, it is clearly a significant advantage because you're able to overcome things that happen with your team. The Dodgers had three pitchers that they planned on for this year in Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly who haven't been able to perform due to injury and that's a significant amount of payroll. But, they still had the means to overcome that thanks to their total payroll."
While Claire did not take another front office position after his lengthy run with the Dodgers, he has remained quite involved in the world of baseball. Claire's current pet project is AriBall.com, an analytics site he launched with the site's namesake and longtime friend, Ari Kaplan. With the site, Claire has stayed as engaged as ever with the game and its constant evolution.
Frank McCourt's final offseason at the helm of the Dodgers has been a busy one. GM Ned Colletti & Co. have signed Aaron Harang, Jerry Hairston Jr., Chris Capuano, Adam Kennedy, Mike MacDougal, Mark Ellis and Juan Rivera and extended Matt Kemp long-term. Here are some links on potential buyers for the team...
- Steven Cohen is trying to buy the Dodgers, though he's about to become a minority owner of the Mets, Bill Shaikin of the LA Times reports. The billionaire investor can pursue the Dodgers, even if his minority purchase of the Mets goes through, Shaikin writes. However, if he buys the Dodgers, he will have to sell his part of the Mets. MLB cleared Cohen as a possible minority owner.
- Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire and his partners can still get into the bidding for the club if they obtain more capital soon, Shaikin tweets.
Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire was kind enough to answer questions for MLBTR readers. Fred enjoyed this; we'll have to do this again in the future. He wrote a book four years ago; my copy just arrived in the mail. Here we go with the Q&A...
MLBTR: What is the best way for a college student to break into a MLB front office, in any baseball operations capacity?
Claire: This is one of the most common questions that comes my way and one of the most difficult to answer for a very basic reason—there are so many young people seeking a position in baseball operations and yet this is a very limited field in an industry with 30 MLB teams. If you want to get a good road map take the time to study the career paths of those involved in MLB at the top levels of team management. You will find a variety of paths to key positions and if you look at recent GM hires in Tony Reagins of the Angels and Bill Smith of the Twins you will see young men who started in rather low level positions (Reagins in marketing and Smith at a minor league team) who worked their way to the top by showing their passion for the game, the ability to learn and the ability to communicate. Both are team players who looked at how they could help their organizations and not how they could advance on an individual basis.
I wish I could say there was an specific academic path that led to a position in the game but that isn’t the case. You need a passion for the game and a willingness to start at whatever level that gets you in the door. The one thing I see quite often with college students is that they have an interest in being a general manager, for example, and yet if you examine their resumes you will see that they are majoring in finance or marketing. This educational background is fine but with this background one should be looking for a job with a MLB team in these areas.
If you look at high profile GMs like Theo Epstein of the Red Sox and Brian Cashman of the Yankees you will see that they started out in low level positions but had the chance to show their ability and advance due to their dedication, intelligence and hard work.
I wish I could give better answers here but I will leave you with this—don’t give up on your dreams to work for a Major League team, build a strong educational background and be willing to pay the price for starting at whatever position that provides an opening opportunity.
MLBTR: Could you tell us about the biggest trade you seriously considered but ultimately did not make?
Claire: I think a “near” trade that comes to mind quickly is a deal in my final year (1998) as the GM of the Dodgers where I felt we were going to be able to acquire Randy Johnson from the Mariners with Hideo Nomo as part of the package. I believe the Seattle front office was willing to do the deal but that Mariner ownership stepped in and stopped the trade in the final stages. I could be wrong because you never know exactly what is happening in the other front office but I had the feeling this deal was a real possibility.
MLBTR: What is the most lopsided (yet serious) trade offer you ever received?
Claire: There were a lot of discussions with other teams in my years with the Dodgers but you tend to forget (at least I did) the deals that simply made no sense.
MLBTR: When you were GM, were there any agents who caused you to shy away from their players because of their demands? Put another way, was there a Scott Boras of your time?
Claire: Scott Boras was in business as part of my time with the Dodgers. I did several deals with Scott, including the signing of Darren Dreifort after we drafted Darren. I always found Scott to be very well prepared as he went into any discussion. There are those who criticize Scott but my response would be “Show me any contract involving Scott where Scott’s signature is the only one on the contract.” Scott never did a deal, and can’t do a deal, without having a Major League team sign off on the deal. If you want to deal with Scott you had been be as prepared as he will be.
MLBTR: What are your feelings on modern statistics? Did you employ any advanced analysis in your time with the Dodgers?
Claire: I find the term “modern statistics” somewhat interesting in that the game on the field hasn’t changed from the most basic standpoint but the way that it is measured and evaluated has changed in a dramatic fashion. I’ve always believed in looking at the best information that is available in making player and team evaluations. During most of my time as the GM of the Dodgers, we employed Craig Wright as a consultant. Craig has been one of the leaders in the field of baseball analytics through the years. I always was a strong believer in on-base percentage through the years even though there are those who seem to believe the statistic was just created as part of “modern statistics.”
Today I’m involved in a baseball venture with Ari Kaplan, a graduate of Caltech (in fact, he has been honored as “Caltech’s Man of the Decade”) and one of the true leaders in the field of technology. You will find a great deal about Ari and has background on the web. I truly believe he has developed the best analytical information that is available to Major League teams and you will be hearing more about this as we move along with our project. Ari and I visited with a number of MLB teams this Spring and basic information on the solutions/programs that Ari has developed can be found at the link: http://www.spraycharts.com/bball.htm.
MLBTR: If you could have been GM for any other organization, which one would it have been and why?
Claire: There are two teams that come immediately to mind, because they were my favorite teams as a youngster while growing up in a small town in Ohio (Jamestown)—the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. I think it’s a great opportunity and honor to be the GM of any team in Major League Baseball.
MLBTR: Who do you consider the best GM in the game today?
Claire: I don’t want to get into ranking the GMs of today but if I had to select one person who I felt has set the right example in the past decade or so it would be Terry Ryan, who stepped down as the Minnesota Twins’ general manager at the end of last season. Terry represents everything you want to have in a GM—passion, dedication, loyalty, intelligence and a true team builder in every way—from the standpoint of his own baseball operations department to the teams he actually has fielded.
Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire has agreed to answer some questions from MLBTR readers. I'll choose the best ones from the comments. Fred was the team's GM for about a decade, and also served in other capacities in the front office before that.
Fred is keeping busy these days with an MLB.com column, radio show appearances, consulting, and civic involvement.