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.