When Walter Alston retired after 24 years managing the Dodgers at the end of the 1976 season, the great Vin Scully interviewed Alston’s replacement. How much pressure, Scully asked, would the new manager stand after a legend? To whom Tommy Lasorda said, “I’m not worried about the guy I’m following. I’m worried about the guy who has to follow me.”
It was Vintage Lasorda and, as always, he was right. Lasorda ran the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1977 to 1996 and put together a 0.526 profit share, won four pennants, won the World Series in 1981 and 1988, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. He used to say he was “bleeding” Dodger blue, and he meant business, spending 71 years with the Dodgers organization as a player, coach and then the most famous manager in the club’s history.
“The funny thing is, Bill Veeck would move his team from St. Louis to Baltimore for $ 5 million in 1953 and take me with him,” said Lasorda. “I wanted to promote Baltimore, but the Yankees didn’t approve of the move, so they didn’t move until the next year. I was with the Dodgers the next year. But if that move had been made the previous year, my whole life would have been [been] much, much different. “
Lasorda brought Hollywood to the Dodgers. He loved the celebrity lifestyle; he loved making friends with movie stars, singers and other glitterati, greats like Frank Sinatra. But most of the time he loved baseball and he loved the Dodgers. During 2013 spring training in Glendale, Arizona, then 85-year-old Lasorda came to the Dodgers camp practically every day to help the organization in any way he could and to be Tommy Lasorda.
He loved being Tommy Lasorda.
“Most people my age,” he said, “are dead or in a nursing home. I make speeches all over the country. But it doesn’t work. When you love what you do, it never feels like work.”
Nobody loved baseball more than Lasorda. Jo, his wife of over 60, once told him that he loved baseball more than he loved her, and he agreed, then playfully added, “But I love you more than I love football or basketball.”
Lasorda loved the game and he loved making it. And he was very good at it, also because of the positive reinforcement that he consistently gave his players.
“I made the guys believe; I made them believe they could win,” he said during a conversation in spring 2013. “I did it by motivating them. I was asked all the time, ‘You mean baseball players who do. ” 5 million, 8 million, 10 million dollars a year need to be motivated? ‘ They do it. I did this. “
Then he smiled.
“Cardinal O’Connor, who was conducting the memorial mass for my mother, once asked me to speak about motivation,” Lasorda continued. “The day I knew I could motivate players was in Spokane in the Pacific Coast League. We played in Tucson. We had a little left-hander on the hill named Bobby O’Brien. He had two outs, bases loaded , late I went to the hill to speak to him. I said, “Bobby, I want you to look up at the Big Dodger in the sky. I want you to consider this maybe the last blow you will ever meet Life. If you give up a hit you will die. You will face the Lord when you know you failed and you died. But if you get this guy out, you can face the Lord if you know that you got this guy out What are you going to do, get this guy out or die? ‘He said, “I want to get this guy out!”
“So I left the hill and he gave up a single with two runs. I went back to the hill and said, ‘Bobby, what happened?’ He said, “I was so scared of dying, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing.” Then I knew. I actually convinced him that if he didn’t get this guy out, he could die. Now This is Motivation!”
Like Bobby O’Brien, Lasorda was a little left-handed during his playing time.
“My things weren’t very good,” he said, “but I loved taking part in competitions.”
He threw 58 innings in his Major League career for the Dodgers and A’s, going 0-4 with a 6.52 ERA.
“I thought I might have a chance to promote the Dodgers if Walter [Alston] got the job [in 1955]”Said Lasorda.” In 1956 I was 14-5 in the minor leagues. I’ve won more games than [Carl] Erskine. I’ve won more games than [Ed] Roebuck. I was called up in June 1956. I sat on the bench the rest of the year. I never got into a game. “
During this time, according to Lasorda, one of his teammates, Don Zimmer, overheard a conversation between Dodger’s pitching coach Ted Lyons and Alston in which Lyons told the manager that Lasorda should get into a game.
“But,” said Lasorda 57 years later, “Walter said to Ted,” we need him more in the dugout. He adds great life to the shelter. “I went to Walter and said, ‘What am I, a cheerleader? I want to be unlucky. Bring me in. I can do that. “I never really got the chance … Ah, but none of that matters now.”
What matters is that Lasorda was a very successful manager for the team he loved most.
“Let me show you something,” said Lasorda once, bringing a writer into the office of then Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. On the wall was a picture of every Dodgers manager in the club’s glorious history. “Look,” he said, “most of these guys only lasted a couple of years. Some went a little longer. It’s amazing to me. Here are all of them, and so few did the Dodgers take very long.”
He didn’t have to complete the thought. Only Alston led the team longer than Lasorda’s 21-year tenure. And the guy who replaced Lasorda? That was Bill Russell. It lasted three years. Lasorda was back in 1976. It wasn’t easy to have to follow him.
But finally, in 2020, 32 years after the Dodgers last won the World Series, they won again, beating the Rays in six games. Tommy Lasorda, the last manager to win a World Series for the Dodgers, was there in a private suite at Globe Life Field, surrounded by friends and family. He had been flown in for clinch game 6.
“He was aware he knew exactly what was going on when the last out was done,” said Bobby Valentine, a former dodger, former manager and dear friend of Lasorda. “When the final came out, we all got up in the suite and shouted with Tommy:“ Oh, yes! ”Because that’s what Tommy always said after a big win:“ Oh, yes! ”Then we took a picture with him after the Dodgers won. Of all the records Tommy holds, he holds the record for the most pictures taken with him of anyone in the world. I’d say it’s 500,000. It’s probably a lot more. Mothers who do that Took a photo of her son in the food story. He was always available. That was Tommy. “