2018 Dodgers evoke '88 memories for Claire

Former Los Angeles GM recalls unity, talent from World Series-winning team

October 26th, 2018

It's been 30 years since the Dodgers won their last World Series title. Fred Claire, who was the team's general manager in 1988, thinks often about that special team.

It helped that the 1988 Dodgers had a reunion at Dodger Stadium this past summer. Even though it's been a long time since Los Angeles hoisted the World Series trophy, Claire believes it is still an elite organization.

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"It seemed like yesterday when the '88 team was together," the 83-year-old Claire said in a recent phone interview. "But what I think is happening now is, we had the Dodgers in the World Series last year. There have been six consecutive postseason appearances by the Dodgers. So there is no question that even though 30 years have passed, the Dodgers are certainly on the verge of establishing a bookend to 1988, because the organization appears to be so sound in the talent that they now have. They are going to be competitive for a number of years."

Nobody thought the Dodgers would be competitive in 1988. It didn't help they went 73-89 the previous two seasons, but Claire changed direction after the '87 season. Los Angeles needed to improve its defense, acquire bullpen help and find better character guys.

Claire improved the defense by acquiring shortstop Alfredo Griffin from the A's. To strengthen the bullpen, the Dodgers traded for relievers Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco. And who can forget "The Stuntmen"? They were players like Mickey Hatcher, Rick Dempsey, Dave Anderson and Franklin Stubbs, who produced off the bench.

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The biggest acquisition turned out to be the signing of free-agent outfielder Kirk Gibson, and what a year he had. His desire to win was off the charts.

"He brought something as a leader that everyone recognized early on," Claire said. "He really was a force. At the same time, that is certainly not to diminish the contributions of someone like Mike Scioscia or Steve Sax."

Not only was Gibson the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner in 1988, but he also had a game to remember against the heavily favored A's in Game 1 of the World Series. Gibson wasn't expected to play in the series because of bad wheels, but he pulled his Roy Hobbs impression in the ninth inning of Game 1 and it changed the momentum of the Series.

Who can forget that game-winning pinch-hit home run off A's closer Dennis Eckersley? The Dodgers ended up winning the series in five games, thanks to Orel Hershiser, who had a season for the ages. That was the same Hershiser who set the Major League record of 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run.

"People say it wasn't that talented of a team," Claire said. "Oh, yes. Show me a pitching staff that year that had an Orel Hershiser, who was the best in the game, the best in decades? We had Tim Belcher, who we had brought in from Oakland. We had Tim Leary. We had the success of Jay Howell in the bullpen.

"We had a good defense, as it showed. Bringing in [center fielder] John Shelby in 1987 [from the Orioles] -- he did a tremendous job for us."

While the memories stay fresh in his mind, Claire is currently battling jaw and neck cancer. He has put on a golf tournament the past three years, raising over $400,000 to fight cancer.

"I've had great support from Major League teams, from the players, former players," Claire said. "So I'm spending my time trying to do everything that I can -- as a patient, speaker and fundraiser -- to help others who face the battle with cancer."