Dodgers Dugout: Fred Claire answers your questions
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and while most of us are enjoying a day off today, let’s not forget to take the time to remember those who gave their lives in service to this country.
Fred Claire answers your questions
Victor Palomarez asks: Hi, Mr. Claire. I remember reading somewhere that, before Fox took over and engineered the Mike Piazza trade, you were working on a deal that would’ve gotten Gary Sheffield to the Dodgers without trading Piazza. Assuming this is true, could you tell us a bit about how that trade would’ve worked?
Fred: It is true that I had an interest in trading for Gary Sheffield without us having to trade Mike Piazza. Dave Dombrowski of the Marlins called me in the early part of the 1998 season to say he was interested in dealing Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and catcher Charles Johnson as the Marlins were looking to unload payroll. I told Dave I had an interest in Sheffield but no interest in trading Piazza.
Even though the new Dodger owners had concerns about signing Piazza as a potential free agent I felt we had enough time to do a deal with Mike and the addition of Sheffield could give us a great boost. Some fans may forget but we had four players who hit 30 or more home runs in 1997 (Mike had 40; Eric Karros, 31, Todd Zeile, 31 and Raul Mondesi, 30. And now we had an opportunity to add Sheffield. That hope ended when both Piazza and Zeile were sent to the Marlins on May 14. The Times and Jason Reid had the behind the scenes story two days later under the headline “Fox Engineers Trade of Piazza…This Wasn’t a Fred Claire Project.”
Scott Walden: Do you think the Mets and the A’s of ’88 are still scratching their heads? Seriously, everyone knows the ’88 season heroes were Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson, but please name a couple of unsung guys who you don’t think get enough credit for the success of that team, both during the season and in the postseason.
Fred: I really don’t believe the Mets and A’s were left scratching their heads over 1988 because they saw firsthand the talent and depth of our team. Your question is timely in that we just had the reunion of the 1988 World Champions and 30 years later you could still feel the togetherness and spirit of the group.
There were so many contributors other than Orel and Kirk and if you check out the stats you will see that the starting pitching of both Tim Leary and Tim Belcher were major factors in our success; along with the contributions of closer Jay Howell. Two players we acquired in 1987 in addition to Belcher had a great impact on our 1988 success — Mickey Hatcher and John Shelby.
In addition to the players who were added for the 1988 season, we had Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax and Mike Marshall, who came up through our organization and knew the Dodger way. And Alfredo Griffin came in a trade with Howell and Jesse Orosco to give us great improvement at shortstop along with left-handed relief. There was a true team effort and catcher Rick Dempsey supplied the exclamation point of the season as he lifted Orel to the sky after the final out.
Andrew Hernandez asks: I am and always have been a huge fan of Mike Piazza. I was wondering how much of an impact trading Piazza had on you professionally and emotionally. My mom, may she rest in peace, was also a Piazza fan, cried when she heard the news.
Fred: The trading of Mike Piazza in a deal engineered by an executive of Fox had to do with a regional television deal in Florida and little to do with baseball. Fox did have concerns about signing Mike after the 1998 season, when he would have been a free agent, but the driver of the deal in my opinion was the Fox interest in a regional sports channel. The Marlins needed to unload salaries of a few players to get a better handle on their financial outlook and Fox was interested in assisting the team in view of landing a TV deal.
As far as the impact on me, I was honest in announcing how the deal came about. I know my candid view of the deal didn’t please the people at Fox. In fact, a reporter told me, “Fred, the Fox people are upset with you and are out to get rid of you.” Whereas the deal cost me my position with the Dodgers, emotionally I was fine. I had given the best I had to give every day of a 30-year career.
Bob Spiegel asks: What were your best and worst trades?
Fred: I never have cared for putting labels on baseball trades where I was involved, preferring to leave that to those who are in the game and who cover the game. When being asked to describe “worst trade” I would say without question the deal that sent Pedro Martinez to the Expos was one I regret the most. The thing I don’t like is that the labels somehow seem to become a reflection of the players involved instead of placing the fault directly on the person making the deal. I take full responsibility in trading Pedro and the criticism should come directly to me and not to any other corner.
James Bauckham: What was the thinking — the reason — behind trading Pedro Martinez for Delino Deshields?
Fred: I think the bottom line was my focus on trying to help strengthen us at second base. I could go into detail about the moves we tried to make to fill that position (and did so in my book: “Fred Claire, My 30 Years in Dodger Blue”) but it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that my focus was on a single position and not on the potential of Pedro. It was a major mistake.
Mike Lewis asks: You were GM into 1998, the year after Jackie Robinson‘s No. 42 was retired throughout baseball. Was there any push back from yourself or the Dodgers organization to Commissioner Bud Selig’s decision to grandfather players still wearing No. 42? I’ve always wondered why Selig and the MLBPA didn’t agree on directing the players to remove No. 42 at that time.
Fred: There was no thought on my part to cast any objection on allowing players who had been wearing No. 42 to continue to do so during their careers when Jackie’s number was saluted and honored by Major League Baseball. In thinking about Jackie, one of the highlights of my Dodger career was to be involved in the Old-Timers Game ceremony of 1972 when we retired the numbers of Jackie, Campy and Sandy. And I will never forget being in the company of Jackie at the World Series of that year when he threw out the first ball, his final public appearance. I think of Jackie with one primary thought — my greatest honor as a Dodger was to know him and be in his company on two very special occasions.
Don Riley asks: I would like to know, as GM in 1988, were there any trades or free agents you wanted to make before the season, but could not?
Fred: We had a laundry list of needs prior to the 1988 season. We had finished 16 games under .500 in both 1986 and 1987 and thus it was clear we had a lot of work to do to be competitive. I saw our biggest needs as filling key spots at shortstop, the closer position and left-handed relief as well as adding a power hitter that could be a part of our lineup. We filled the three key spots with a trade during the Winter Meetings that brought us shortstop Alfredo Griffin, closer Jay Howell and lefty Jesse Orosco. And then we had the opportunity to sign free agent outfielders Kirk Gibson and Mike Davis. Having added Mickey Hatcher, John Shelby and Tim Belcher during 1987, we now were a different team in 1988. As far as not making deals or signings, I can only say that Dodger owner Peter O’Malley gave me great freedom and his support was a major part of our 1988 success.
Bob Rybicki asks: Do you think your way of building a team translates to today’s game?
Fred: My goal as general manager was to follow what is known as “The Dodger Way” to the best of my ability. That is to place an emphasis on scouting and player development. A key part of this is the continuity in these critical areas. I think of “building a team” as not only acquiring talent but an organizational philosophy as to the type of character of an individual who is wearing a Dodger uniform, building a trust with the players, letting all of the people in your organization know that they are important and they count. It is not often stated but the O’Malley family had a philosophy that is key to the term “building a team” — that philosophy is, we win together and we lose together. We are a team! In my view, that will never change when it comes to finding success.
Duane Mitchell asks: Questions abound as to the influence the front office has on Dave Roberts’ decision making. As GM, did you ever try to tell Tommy Lasorda what kind of playing time you’d like to see for the players?
Fred: Tommy and I worked together for many years and I never once made a suggestion related to the playing time for a player. My job was to acquire the players for the Dodgers; Tommy’s job was managing those players. To me, those are clear cut lines. How else can a GM or manager be held responsible?
Naturally, Tommy and I had ongoing discussions about our team and I placed an emphasis on holding meetings with Tommy and all of our coaches. And there were regular meetings with our scouts and minor-league personnel. I wanted to hear what each and every person involved was thinking. I made a point to tell Tommy to never worry about the salary a player was making or who we might have traded to acquire a player. His only priority needed to be putting the best players available on the field.
Mark Trank asks: The Dodgers won their last World Series in 1988. We came as close as you can get last year. Boston finally dispatched the curse of the Bambino in 2004. Is L.A. similarly doomed to suffer for the foreseeable future or can the Dodgers learn from that ’88 team you put together and finally win a championship?
Fred: The Dodgers are not “doomed.” I believe they are destined for success. The leaders of the Dodgers want nothing more than to bring another World Series title to Los Angeles. To say the least, it has been too long. There is an outstanding group of young talent in the organization. The ownership has shown its willingness to be at a top level when it comes to payroll. The young talent on the Dodgers is a reflection of solid scouting and player development and the team in a Dodger tradition is seeking players from throughout the world. The support of the fans, as always, is the best in the game. The city is waiting to celebrate.
Finally, Frank Cuomo asks: How is your health? Thank you for all you did to give us a World Series title in 1988.
Fred: Frank, thanks for your question. My health is stable and good, thanks to great support from my family, friends and the amazing people at the City of Hope. My cancer journey is closing in on two years but, as we all know, I’m far from alone in this journey. My primary motivation today is to do all I can to assist the City of Hope. We will have a celebrity golf tournament on Aug. 20 to benefit COH. More info is at: www.fredclairegolf.com.
Again, I want to thank Fred for taking the time to answer these questions in great detail. And he doesn’t know I’m doing this, but I want to point out one thing about the Delino DeShields-Pedro Martinez trade. When it was made, most baseball experts, and most fans, didn’t think it was a bad trade. The Dodgers needed a second baseman and in his four seasons with Montreal, DeShields had won the Rookie of the Year award, averaged about 45 steals a season, had a .367 OB% and an OPS+ of 106.
Did most people figure Pedro Martinez would be a good pitcher? Sure. Did anyone predict that he would become the pitcher he did? No. Martinez was a reliever with the Dodgers, an excellent setup man. So, while I give Fred a great deal of credit for always saying the trade was a mistake and taking all the blame for it, I just wanted to point out what the feeling was from most people at the time of the trade.
These names seem familiar
What recently departed Dodgers are doing around the league (through Saturday):
Adrian Gonzalez, Mets: .256/.326/.400, 102 OPS+
Charlie Culberson, Braves, .200/.273/.300, 59 OPS+
Brandon McCarthy, Braves, 5-2, 4.67 ERA, 83 ERA+
Yu Darvish, Cubs, 1-3, 4.95 ERA, 82 ERA+, put on disabled list Saturday because of triceps tendinitis
Curtis Granderson, Blue Jays, .235/.380/.400, 113 OPS+
Brandon Morrow, Cubs, 0-0, 11 saves, 1.04 ERA, 396 ERA+
Tony Watson, Giants, 1-2, 2.45 ERA, 159 ERA+
Chris Hatcher, A’s, 3-1, 4.58 ERA, 91 ERA+
Luis Avilan, White Sox, 1-0, 4.30 ERA, 98 ERA+
Trayce Thompson, White Sox, .133/.167/.280, 21 OPS+
Wilmer Font, Rays, 0-2, 12.71 ERA, 32 ERA+, traded from Oakland to Tampa Bay on Friday for pitcher Peter Bayer.
Andre Ethier, still unsigned
Monday, 5 p.m.: Philadelphia (Vince Velasquez, 4-5, 4.18 ERA) at Dodgers (Brock Stewart, 0-0, 3.72 ERA)
Tuesday, 7 p.m.: Philadelphia (Jake Arrieta, 4-2, 2.45 ERA) at Dodgers (Kenta Maeda, 4-3, 3.38 ERA)
Wednesday, 7 p.m.: Philadelphia (Zach Elfin, 1-1, 3.27 ERA) at Dodgers (Ross Stripling, 2-1, 1.74 ERA)
Thursday, 4:30 p.m.: Philadelphia (Aaron Nola, 6-2, 2.27 ERA) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 1-4, 2.86 ERA)
Rich Hill says MLB should be more concerned about pitchers’ blisters. Read all about it here.
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