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J.A. ADANDE

Tradition Is Taking a Beating

June 25, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

The letters on the hillside of Chavez Ravine had it all wrong. This isn't "Think Blue" Week. This is Think New Week.

New manager, new general manager, new Fox attitude.

Appropriately, the Dodgers took the field with a new look, wearing dark blue jerseys in a game for the first time in team history.

The Dodgers began their annual weeklong salute to all of history and tradition that made them the Dodgers by making a move that had no precedent in their 40 years in Los Angeles. They fired General Manager Fred Claire and Manager Bill Russell, both of whom had been with the team in one capacity or another since 1969.

The Dodger past no longer flows easily into the present. It clashes with it.

Fans applauded a home run by Mike Piazza, even if they only saw it listed on the DiamondVision screen.

On the same night the Dodgers were honoring one member of their World Series teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Steve Garvey, they fired another, Reggie Smith, from the coaching staff.

And while the Dodgers were arriving at Dodger Stadium for their first home game under Manager Glenn Hoffman, the deposed Claire was wrapping up a news conference in Pasadena.

In the past 30 years Claire didn't even need fingers--just arms-- to count the number of games he has missed at Dodger Stadium. One was because of health problems in the family, another because of problems in his own body.

Now he had a new reason: no job.

"It's an experience I've never been through before," Claire said. "I've never been terminated."

Not many Dodgers have.

The only reason his predecessor, Al Campanis, was fired was because of the national uproar created by his comments on "Nightline." I didn't hear politicians and the NAACP calling for Claire's head. These days, all it takes is a sub-.500 season, just like anywhere else. That's what the Dodgers are now: another team. How many balls do you estimate Russell threw to Garvey during their nine years together in the Dodger infield? About 10,000? Well, when the Dodgers brought Garvey onto the field for a rousing ovation as part of the Think Blue Week festivities Wednesday night, Russell was nowhere to be found.

It will be increasingly difficult to hold spontaneous Dodger reunions anymore now that key figures are being cut off. Will Russell be too bitter to join his former infield mates Garvey, Davey Lopes and Ron Cey for any ceremonies at Dodger Stadium? You couldn't blame him if he was.

Never fear, Fox had a new foursome for the fans Wednesday night: Red Ranger from "Power Rangers in Space," Gold from "Beetleborg's Metallix" and a couple of fuzzy creatures called Gorgeous and Candy.

I could only guess that Gorgeous and Candy were characters from some Fox kids' show. Much to my horror, I was actually right. Something called "Space Goofs."

Maybe I haven't been watching enough children's programming, but I had no idea what these things were supposed to be. All I know is, one was green and had a head shaped like a giant hardware bolt, and the other looked like a reincarnation of the pear-shaped Grimace from the old McDonald's commercials, only this time in blue.

They were all presented to the public before the game Wednesday. Then Red and Gold went down the first base line (remember when the "Red" in this franchise referred to Red Barber, and "Gold" referred to Gold Gloves?) and went over to sign autographs.

At Camden Yards you can get an autograph from future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken before games. Now at Dodger Stadium you can get an autograph from a Power Ranger.

Meanwhile, those noted goodwill ambassadors Gorgeous and Candy were shaking hands as they worked their way down the third base stands toward the Dodger bullpen. I was kind of hoping they would go all the way in and stay awhile, just to see if they could do something to help the Dodger relief corps.

There's no way to describe just how hideously goofy those two characters looked. It's this type of thing that desecrates once-proud franchises.

What's eating the Dodgers these days? Why must they shred everything we hold sacred? After firing Smith, pitching coach Glenn Gregson and bullpen coach Mark Cresse (the longest-tenured coach in Dodger history at 22 years) Wednesday night, that makes five people cut loose in one week. Better write that number with a pencil; we still have three days left.

As Claire said, "It needs to settle down."

But at least they haven't traded any popular players lately (the Lakers took care of that department by sending Nick Van Exel to Denver on Wednesday).

The growing number of ex-Dodgers will find out they can never get too far away from the Fox influence in sports. As fate would have it, one of the first things Claire did after his news conference was sit down for an interview with Fox Sports Net.

On his way to the camera, Claire said to the producer, Anthony Storm, "You're with Fox?

"I used to work for them."

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