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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

Dodgers Can't Compete With Claire's Spirit, Either

September 23, 1997|RANDY HARVEY

Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president, is a nice man, quiet, polite and respectful. But he's more assertive than he's given credit for and, when the occasion calls for it, even combative. That's the Claire who was on the telephone Monday.

He was irritated after reading the morning newspapers. As a former sportswriter, he couldn't have been surprised by the negative headlines after Sunday night's 10-5 loss to Colorado dropped the Dodgers two games behind San Francisco with six to play. That doesn't mean he has to like them.

"Everybody wants to write us off," he said. "It's not over."

Even more offensive to him are questions about this team's character, or lack of it.

"I'm a huge believer in the competitive spirit of our players," he said. "No one would ever convince me that their desire isn't as strong as any other team's. I would fight anyone who attacks the competitive spirit of this team."

For examples, he mentioned two pitchers battered by the Rockies the night before.

"If there's anyone who's a better competitor than Ramon Martinez, I don't know who it is," Claire said. "Anybody who thinks they can compete better than Darren Dreifort, come on out here and compete with the guy."

At the risk of having to put on the gloves with Claire, I'm not sure I agree with him about this team, particularly the nucleus that hasn't won a crucial game since the last weekend of the 1995 regular season.

Comparing this Dodger team to the last one to win the World Series, these players have more talent. But something seems to be missing that wasn't in 1988.

In his book, "Bottom of the Ninth," Kirk Gibson wrote, "We were a dangerous, nasty, relentless NL team, and I was loving it."

That sounds to me more like this season's Giants than Dodgers.

Not to Claire.

"I'll put the competitive makeup of this team up against the '88 team, and I don't care who disagrees," he said. "It doesn't mean we'll have the same results. We'll see. But there's nobody here who has given up anything."

If his team is as fired up as he is, there's hope.

*

If I had a vote for AL manager of the year, I'd give it to Terry Collins. . . .

I didn't write that without thinking twice. Buddy Bell's Detroit Tigers had won 77 games through Sunday, 24 more than last season. . . .

Mike Piazza is the National League's most valuable player because of his value to the Dodgers. . . .

But I don't feel as strongly about that as I did a month ago, when Colorado was 10 games out of first. . . .

Now, the Rockies might finish ahead of the Dodgers. . . .

If Larry Walker turns out to be the MVP, I won't argue. . . .

Not only is he having a monster year offensively, he wins games in the outfield. . . .

He made the throw from right field in the Rockies' 2-1 victory Saturday over the Dodgers that cut down Todd Zeile at the plate. . . .

Credit Zeile for the slide that evaded catcher Jeff Reed's phantom tag, seen only by umpire Frank Pulli. . . .

So you think these are paper Dodgers? You're not alone. . . .

"When it comes to fulfilling potential for wreaking havoc, the Dodgers are the Hurricane Linda of baseball," former Times columnist Scott Ostler writes. . . .

I guarantee a race on Sunday, although it might not involve baseball. . . .

A sellout crowd of 80,000 is expected for the final event on the PPG CART World Series schedule, the Marlboro 500, at the California Speedway in Fontana. . . .

Italy's Alex Zanardi seeks the California Triple Crown after winning this year at Long Beach and Laguna Seca. . . .

Silver Charm will have his day at Fairplex Park in Pomona on Saturday. . . .

But he's not expected to race again until the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. . . .

His 3-year-old rival, Touch Gold, may run Oct. 11 at Santa Anita in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap to see if he can shake off Saturday's perplexing fourth-place finish. . . .

The USC women's volleyball team gave up only 19 points in victories last weekend over Arizona and Arizona State. . . .

Yasmina Marinkovic had 23 kills in 30 attempts with no errors. . . .

Pepperdine is making waves in water polo. . . .

The Waves won last weekend's Southern California Tournament with victories over No. 1 California, No. 2 USC and No. 3 Stanford.

*

While wondering if anyone could have guessed the Dodgers' pitching would let them down, I was thinking: I'd like the Orioles' chances better if Cal Ripken Jr. took next weekend off, I'd like the Dodgers' chances better if Barry Bonds took next weekend off, Claire can find Ostler at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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