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Dodgers: END OF AN ERA / THE O'MALLEY YEARS: 1950-1998

Claire Feels Good About His Position

General manager isn't worried about how he will be judged by new owners.

March 20, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Fred Claire has heard the rumors, and he can't escape the constant speculation about his status with the Dodgers.

Many believe the longtime executive vice president has lost his standing in the organization, that he recently was passed over for a major promotion and he will be replaced if the team doesn't meet expectations this season.

The sale of the Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch's Fox Group has fueled some of the speculation about his status--but criticism of Claire is nothing new.

He has remained typically cool throughout his supposed career crisis, and will stand on his record.

"Things that are said or written really don't bother me," said Claire, who has the longest current tenure among general managers. "If you do your best and you're giving your fullest effort, and you know in your heart you've given everything you have, then you shouldn't be bothered by those things.

"So however I'm judged, by the people in other organizations, by players, by staff, by the media, by the fans, I'm not troubled. I feel comfortable with all of that, because I didn't leave anything on the table."

His approach hasn't changed since he was hired as the Dodger media relations director in 1969. Claire, 62, rose steadily in the organization, winning numerous awards.

He assumed control of player personnel decisions in 1987, shortly after his predecessor, Al Campanis, was fired by Peter O'Malley for saying that blacks "may not have some of the necessities" to be a field manager or general manager in the majors during a "Nightline" interview.

Claire has been among the main targets of fans, in letters to newspapers and on radio sports-talk shows. But judging by objective criteria, Claire has excelled as a general manager.

He was selected the Sporting News executive of the year after the Dodgers' World Series championship season in 1988, and the team has finished first or second in the National League West the last four seasons.

He presided over the Dodger farm system, which has produced five of the last six National League rookies of the year.

He obviously has made mistakes too, but his tenure has been marked more by success than failure.

His efforts haven't been lost on everyone. The organization's top decision makers strongly support Claire.

"Fred has done an excellent job through some very difficult times," said O'Malley, now the chairman of the Dodgers' board of directors.

"When you look back at the problems the game has encountered over the last few years, you get a good understanding of how well Fred has been able to handle things and keep us competitive. Fred has done an outstanding job in so many areas, and he continues to do an outstanding job."

Fox Group officials are pleased with the stability Claire has provided. When O'Malley considered giving Claire a three-year contract last May, they encouraged him.

"We are absolutely satisfied with Fred," said Peter Chernin, chairman and chief executive of the Fox Group. "When Peter asked for our opinion about giving Fred the extension, we said absolutely.

"Fred has a phenomenal record on bringing up talent, and the team has been competitive. He's done a great job and we are extremely supportive of him."

Some thought that Claire, in his 30th year with the organization, might succeed O'Malley as president of the team after the sale was completed. Instead, Bob Graziano, the other executive vice president, was appointed president and chief executive.

Graziano has daily operational control of the team and will determine whether Claire fulfills the length of the contract.

"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Fred," he said. "If you take Fred's record over the last 10 or 12 years, you see it measures up against the best general managers in the game. I've learned a lot from Fred and I will continue to learn from him."

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