By Earl Heath, Contributing Sports Writer
Long time Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was full of life, a comedian, ball of fire, and the life that stood out for the L.A. Dodgers.
He recently passes away at the age of 93 due to heart failure. He was the kind of person to light up the room, a restaurant, and a stadium. He had a jolly baritone voice that drew your attention as soon as he entered the room.
“In a franchise that has celebrated such great legends of the game, no one has worn the uniform embodied the Dodger spirit as much as Tommy Lasorda,” said Dodger President and CEO Stan Kasen. “A tireless spokesman for baseball his dedication to the sport and team he loved was unmatched. He was a champion who at critical moments seemed to will his team to victory. The Dodgers and his fans will miss him terribly. Tommy is quite simply irreplaceable and unforgettable.”
Born and raised in Norristown, Pa. Thomas Charles Lasorda grew up with the blue-collar work ethic and spirit. He took that and carried it right through life on to the baseball diamond.
As a lefthanded pitcher in the minors he showed promise. He was drafted by the Phillies in 1945. He was also drafted into the U.S. Army and missed the 1946 and 1947 seasons while serving.
In 1948 he was selected by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the minor league draft. He was released by the Dodgers in 1960 and became a scout.
In 1965 his first managing job was with the Dodger Rookie League Pocatello Chiefs. He later went on to manage Triple-A Spokane where he won titles in 1970 and 1972.
In 1973 he became third base coach of the Dodgers under Walter Austin. In 1976 he became the Dodger manager. He could motivate with the best of them.
“He’d have you believing you could do anything,” said former Dodger Ron Cey. “He could motivate you in ways you wouldn’t believe and bring the best out of you.”
He took the team to the World series in 1977and 1978 falling to “Cheating Reggie Jackson” and the Yankees.
In 1981 he got the Dodgers the first World Series win since 1965.He appeared to be the happiest man on earth racing out of the dugout after game clinching out.
From 1979 to 1982 he Managed four Rookies of The Year that included Rick Sutcliff, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax.
He helped create “Fernando Mania” as the then rookie soared so did Tommy’s voicing of him. “He’ll be one of the greatest pitchers ever” Lasorda said after a Fernando win. “This young man is on his way to big things, just watch.”
In 1988 he guided the team to another World Series win over the Oakland A’s. That series featured the game winning home run in the ninth by Kurt Gibson. It was one of the highlights of his career.
After health concerns he officially stepped down from manager in 1996 but became Senior Vice President.
He retired with 1,599 wins 22nd all-time in MLB history, 31 post season wins, and two World Series titles.
The Dodgers officially retire his jersey #2 in August of 1997. He wore the number because former Dodger manager Leo Durocher was who he looked up to.
You would see Tommy at many home games on the field for batting practice or walking throughout the stadium talking with fans.
In 2000 he managed the US Olympic team to a Gold Medal win over Cuba who had won the previous two Olympics.
He once said “Winning the Olympics is better than winning the World Series. When you beat the Giants and the Padres those fans are upset but when you beat other countries all the Giant fans and Padre fans and Dodger fans are happy, that’s a great thing for the country”
There are so many stories at eateries of “Uncle Tommy.”
He once said- “When we win I’m so happy we eat a lot. When we lose I’m depressed, I eat a lot. When we’re rained out I’m so disappointed I eat a lot.”
At one Dodger game in Denver Tommy walked into the media room grabbed his meal and as he got to the cashier he said “Ten dollars please.” Lasorda replied “Send the bill to Dodger Stadium and he never broke stride heading to his table. One seated he stated, “They have a multi-million-dollar stadium here and their worried about ten dollars. What the f%$ k is that all about.”
He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.He is also in the Pacific Coast League Hall, The Italian American Sports, Pennsylvania, International league to name a few.
He has a few honorary Degrees from Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Cal State and Concordia University.
He traveled around the country to Major league cities creating prostate cancer awareness.
Tommy also had several quotes he once told Bill Plaschke that stood out like: “My wife tells me one day I think you love baseball more than me. I say well I guess that’s true but I love you more the football and hockey”
-On Mike Scioscia: “If he raced his pregnant wife he’d finish third.”
– “Listen if you start worrying about people in the stands you’ll be up there with them.”
“Uncle Tommy” touched so many people, players and families over the years he will be truly missed.
A final Tommy quote: “I bleed Dodger Blue and when I die, I’m going to that big Dodger in the Sky”