After losing several baseball greats in 2020, the year 2021 began with the loss of yet another baseball legend: Tommy Lasorda. The former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame died Thursday, Jan. 7 at the age of 93.
Lasorda’s record speaks for itself. He won several division championships and National League pennants, along with two World Series Championships during his long stint with the Dodgers. He was also passionate about the game, and played and managed with an enthusiasm that was infectious. He was called one of the game’s great ambassadors.
I’d like to tell you four stories about Lasorda that will give you some insight into what a colorful character he was. The first comes from former Dodgers’ General Manager Buzzy Bavasi when Lasorda was a young pitcher in the organization in the early 1950s.
Lasorda was dissatisfied with an offer of $1,000 per month for six months to play for Montreal, which was then the Dodgers’ top farm club. He told Bavasi he was through with baseball.
Bavasi offered to send Lasorda to a fellow who would pay him $25 a week to drive a beer truck.
“You’d do that for me?” Lasorda said. “What a pal! What a guy! Thanks!”
Lasorda left the office, and came back about 10 minutes later, just as Bavasi knew he would. It took him that long to realize $25 a week was a lot less than $1,000 a month.
“What the heck,” Lasorda said. “I’ll go to Montreal.”
Lasorda told this story of how he dealt with his vices.
He looked at a pack of cigarettes and asked himself, “Who’s stronger, you or me?” He heard himself answering, “I am!” With that, he quit smoking.
He looked at a bottle of booze and asked himself, “Who’s stronger, you or me?” He head himself say, “I am!” With that, he gave up alcohol.
He looked at a plate of linguini and clam sauce and asked himself, “Who’s stronger, you or me?” He heard one of the clams answer, “I am!”
Yes, Lasorda always did have problems with his weight.
Lasorda played and managed passionately. That sometimes translated into temper tantrums. He was ejected from more than a few games over the years.
On one occasion when The Dodgers had played poorly, he severely chewed them out in the locker room. He went into his office and slammed the door behind him. A few moments later, as the players sat silently in front of their lockers, they heard Lasorda knocking on the door from inside his office. He had slammed the door so hard, it had jammed shut!
The players called maintenance workers to get Lasorda out, but they had to debate for a few minutes as to whether they really wanted to do that.
Soon after he took over at the helm of the Dodgers in 1976, Lasorda gave the media an idea of how much different he would be from his predecessor, the even-tempered Walter Alston. After the Dodgers lost a game where Dave Kingman hit three home runs to beat them, a writer asked him his opinion of Kingman’s performance.
“What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance?” Lasorda asked incredulously. “What the #$@!% do you think is my &!%$#@ opinion of his #@!$% performance?!?”
His obscenity-laden response went on for several minutes. I’ve only heard the “bleeped” version. I’m not sure I want to hear the uncensored version.
Lasorda was a fine manager and one of baseball’s most colorful characters. He will be missed.