Claire's Book a Classic

Rarely does an outsider get a look behind the scenes of a major league team's front office. Only a handful of books have provided even a brief glimpse but now Fred Claire, executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, gives us a long, hard and very entertaining look that is as straight forward and as matter of fact as you would expect a book from him would be. <br><br

This classic deserves to be on every Dodger fans' short-list bookshelf along with Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer, Leo Durocher's Nice Guys Finish Last and Jane Leavy's Koufax.

After being swept away along with manager Bill Russell in the purge following the ill-advised trade of Mike Piazza by a FOX executive, one might anticipate -- even expect -- pages dripping with blood.

But that is just not Claire's way of doing things. He does, however, deliver the straight, unvarnished facts of his remarkable 30 years with the Dodgers.

The book is a fascinating inside look at Dodger history with both the good and the bad spread out in complete detail. There is no attempt to spin history to cover moves that didn't work out well -- the Pedro Martinez trade for example -- or those that turned to gold -- like Kirk Gibson's short but stunning time in Dodger Blue.

The book is jammed with an insiders look at the major stories of the era and some that have never before been told. In 1983 Tommy Lasorda's salary request was denied and Tommy had walked away from the club. Second baseman Joe Morgan, playing for Philadelphia in the penultimate year of a Hall of Fame career, was being actively sought as the next Dodger manager before Lasorda changed his mind and signed at the last minute.

The replacement story describes inside workings of the scramble for players to open the season after a strike had cancelled the 1994 World Series and was threatening to delete 1995 as well and the bitter aftermath that resulted when the owners attempted to open the season without the players union. A vocal clubhouse protest resulted after the strike ended and Claire brought Mike Busch up from Albuquerque.

Details about the trade of future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza without Claire's knowledge, how he was talked out of resigning immediately and was given the task of cleaning up the unorthodox player exchange. Claire's refusal to take ‘credit' for the trade was part of the bazaar whirlwind of events that ultimately cost him his job.

One of the biggest events to impact baseball over the last 50 years occurred when Andy Messersmith refused to sign his contract and as a result was declared a free agent. Remarkably he hadn't set out to break the reserve clause, he only wanted a no-trade contract but his action changed the face of the game.

Many other fascinating details are outlined, including Al Campanis' stumble in 1987 on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut that eventually resulted in Claire becoming General Manager of the Dodgers ... the blockbuster trade that brought Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco to the Dodgers, the negotiations with free agent Kirk Gibson and the Pedro Guerrero for John Tudor trade that was the final piece in winning the 1988 pennant and the World Championships ... The unsuccessful free agent signings of Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse that caused the Dodgers to shy away from free agent pickups and later the addition of hometown hero Darryl Strawberry that turned out not only badly but expensively ... Maury Wills' remarkable recovery from drug problems that brought him near death ... The painful managerial transition from Tommy Lasorda to Bill Russell and many more. And, of course, the ultimate sale of the Dodgers by Peter O'Malley and his sister Terry Seidler that ended a string of 50 remarkable years of family ownership and the reasoning behind their actions.

The book deserves five stars, packs the wallop of a Koufax fastball and as hard to put down as Eric Gagné's changeup is to hit.

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