Former Dodgers exec Fred Claire says ’32 years is more than enough’ – Press Enterprise

As Fred Claire watched the 2020 World Series, he saw some things that seemed awfully familiar.

The man who put together the 1988 Dodgers roster, the franchise’s last team to win a World Series until this week, recognized the formula: One great player and leader, brought in as much for the example he would set as for his skills, to complement and bolster a roster with other skilled players as well as role players who didn’t gripe about their usage but understood the greater goal.

It wasn’t a total similarity, of course. The 2020 Dodgers had a longer runway to get to this point, with Andrew Friedman assembling a roster that included two NL Rookies of the Year in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, a three-time Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw and a potential future Cy Young Award winner in Walker Buehler. This was the next step in a process, after eight consecutive division titles and two World Series losses in the previous three years.

The ’88 Dodgers had finished 73-89 each of the two previous seasons. Claire was a new general manager – his technical title was vice president, player personnel – when he attended the 1987 Winter Meetings in Dallas, having had the job dropped in his lap the previous April after Al Campanis’ racially insensitive remarks on ABC’s “Nightline” forced owner Peter O’Malley to let him go. Claire rebuilt on the fly, getting a center fielder (John Shelby) and a super-utility man who became a valuable outfielder (Mickey Hatcher), and then acquiring a quality shortstop (Alfredo Griffin), a closer (Jay Howell) and a left-handed relief specialist (Jesse Orosco) in a three-team trade with the Oakland A’s and New York Mets at those meetings.

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In both cases, though, the last acquisition put the team over the top. In ’88 it was Kirk Gibson, awarded his free agency by an arbitrator after he and several others won collusion grievances, and signed by Claire in January of 1988. In 2020 it was Mookie Betts, acquired by trade in early February basically so the Boston Red Sox could reset their payroll under the luxury tax threshold and then signed by Friedman to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension before the season began in July.

As we are reminded again, payroll control doesn’t win championships. Players do. But I digress.

“One of the strongest similarities, as I saw the games with the two teams, is the tremendous impact of an additional player,” Claire said in a phone conversation this week.

“Kirk didn’t just come in to say I’m now the leader. Kirk wanted the team to know how he was going to approach the game. He had been part of a championship team, and that’s what he believed in. But he not only said it; more important, he executed it. And you couldn’t possibly play with more energy from day one.”

Sound familiar? When Betts addressed the team early in spring training, just as Gibson did in ’88 … or when Betts scored from second on a catcher’s wild throw in August in Colorado, just as Gibson did on a wild pitch against Montreal in August of ’88 … it wasn’t hard to see the parallels.

And the primal scream Mookie unleashed as he rounded first after his home run in Game 6 that sealed the deal for the Dodgers? That’s going to be a regular on the video board in The Ravine for years to come, just like the image of Gibson pumping his right arm as he rounded second after his historic home run in ’88.

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“There’s no question, having a chance now to see more of Mookie, how he plays the game, he sets the example on the field, just like Kirk did,” Claire said. “It seems clear to me that Mookie wanted to set the tone, and they had the talent to be able to show that in a leadership way.”

These Dodgers, with that longer runway, have done something else that a retired executive can’t help but admire.

“When you look at this team, the player who is on first (Max Muncy) and the player who is on third (Justin Turner) were both basically released by other organizations,” Claire said. “That’s a huge credit to the organization.

“Three other players in that same class were huge, huge parts of this: Chris Taylor, (Austin) Barnes and Kiké (Hernández). Those players have been huge, and they weren’t high-priced free agents and they weren’t major, major trades. But they really were players who have fit so well with this team. And so when you bring (them) in, and then you have your homegrown (talent), it’s a wonderful blend of players.”

Maybe the Dodgers have sent a message to the rest of baseball, particularly the rest of the National League West, and especially anyone who would downgrade this championship because of a 60-game schedule.

“For anybody who’s going to compete with them, you’re going to have to raise your level of play because this team is going to be good for a long time,” Claire said. “This is a young team and a good team and a well-managed team.”

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