Extra Innings: Fred Claire’s Journey to City of Hope
And Finding a World Championship Team
The publishing info:
Released July 7, 2020
The review in 90 feet or less
In an April, 2017 column for the Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke did a 30-year look-back at how Fred Claire’s character and successes led to him becoming the team’s new general manager. But it came under a somewhat curious headline: “Almost forgotten, Fred Claire played a role in the Dodgers’ last World Series.”
How was it possible to even consider anyone like Fred Claire as forgotten?
After a dozen years as a sports writer, the last with the Long Beach Press-Telegram covering the Dodgers, he enters the team’s organizational flow chart with a role in its public relations department in 1969. Some 20 years later, he’s installed as the best in-house candidate to fill the vacant role of general manager under extremely strained circumstances (see: Campanis, Al; “Nightline”).
It was not a fun time to be associated with the franchise. Peter Gammons writes as much in Sports Illustrated (Aug. 10, 1987), and Claire manages to deviate from the narrative with this quote: “There are still a lot of great scouts and instructors in the Dodger organization. We have some good prospects. I am extremely positive about our future. We just have some things to pull together.”
Refashioning the roster with tenacity and talent (Kirk Gibson) as well as relevant role players (Mike Davis, Mickey Hatcher, Rick Dempsey, Alfredo Griffin, Tim Belcher, Jesse Orosco, Jay Howell, John Shelby), the team of character wills its way to the 1988 World Series title – still the last one in franchise history. Without those deals, there’s no dramatic Game 1 walkoff, or a backup catcher walking Orel Hershiser through the Game 5 clincher in Oakland. Dempsey would save that ball from the final strikeout and give it to Claire. He was The Sporting News’ MLB Executive of the Year.
From 1994 to 1997, the team reaches the post-season twice. But now it’s May, 1998, and Claire has no knowledge of the new Fox ownership team regrettably trading off Mike Piazza to the Florida Marlins in May, 1998 in a pure business cable rights TV deal. Claire ends up getting let go, along with manager Bill Russell, a month later.
He’s staying fit, teaching college courses in sports business at USC and Long Beach State. In 2004, he comes out with his own book, “Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue.”
In 2011, he becomes an intriguing part of a group bidding on ownership of the team when it went up for auction, spearheaded by Ben Hwang. The former Dodgers batboy who ended up running his own biotech company calls on Claire for his business and ethical clarity because “he was just so committed to doing the right thing every day,” says Hwang. “He lives those virtues day in and day out, in private and in public.”
Now it’s Jan., 2015. Starting on Chapter 3, Page 29:
“It began with a spot on the left side of Fred’s lower lip, one so small that even his wife, Sheryl, didn’t notice.”
A biopsy turns up squamous cell carcinoma, one of those cancers that happens from thousands of hours spent in the sun. A Mohs procedure removes it. About a year-and-a-half later, the cancer moves to the left side of his jaw.
Claire has to assemble a new lineup, with a renewed hope it would lead to success. He finds the City of Hope in Duarte.
Lupe Santana is the facility’s patient navigator, going on 23 years.
Dr. Thomas J. Gernon becomes the new cleanup hitter, operating on Claire in both 2016 and ’19 to combat neck and head cancer, removing nerves and lymph nodes with radiation and chemotherapy to kill off malignant cells.
They put together the blueprint for Claire’s success. Claire reciprocates by holding City of Hope charity golf events starting in 2017 to raise funds and awareness, and also bring in honored guests, such as Rod Carew, who has his own medial turnaround in recent years.
“The one constant theme I have seen play out during our experience at City of Hope is seeing firsthand that people who truly care about patients,” Claire says during an Oct., 2018 speech on the hospital’s campus for a leadership conference. “The wording resonates with me because of what a great pitching coach told me one day when I asked about how he was able to assist pitchers who were struggling. ‘Fred,’ he said, ‘you have to show them that you care before you tell them what you know.’”
There are more stories to pass on – Tom Quinley, Jaylon Fong, Lisa Bowman, a reconciliation with Tommy Lasorda … It’s best to let Claire, and author Tim Madigan, take it from here:
Or, we get Plaschke to circle back and explain why he felt compelled to be connected to this project, writing in the forward:
“I am honored to write this … not only because of my admiration for Claire, but also because of my appreciation for the special way this story is told. This is far more than a baseball book, it’s a humanity book and its pages abound with different heroes from different worlds … I was lucky enough to cover the honorable Clare during his successful 12-year regime as Dodgers general manager. He was the most honest and integrity-driven sports executive I’ve ever met…”
How it goes in the scorebook
City of Hope springs eternal.
Far more than just a chronology of Claire’s journey — 33 radiations, seven chemos, surgery to take a fibula bone graft from his leg and replace his jawbone — it is a well-placed public thank-you and an educational journey about what happens at the facility, who makes it happen, and why and how it is has this foundation of success.
Claire says now he wants City of Hope to have all the possible attention it could receive these days — and a portion of the book’s proceeds donated back to its services. Those who can speak from experience, like Claire and many others, see how the value of a book like this will keep paying it forward.
On the subject of former Dodgers GMs …
== University of Nebraska Press has a September launch date for “Buzzie and The Bull: A GM, a Clubhouse Favorite and the Dodgers’ 1965 Championship Season,” by Ken LaZebnik ($29.95, 208 pages). The story of this relationship was prompted by Bob and Bill Bavasi, Buzzie Bavasi’s sons. Bob writes the forward. As Fred Claire was the last Dodgers’ GM to be recognized as The Sporting News’ MLB “Executive of the Year,” Buzzie Bavasi was the previous last Dodgers employee to win it, in 1959.