Sep 22, 2015

Hall of Fame Italian / American Manager: Tommy Lasorda

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born September 22, 1927 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. Tommy originally signed a baseball contract with his local Philadelphia Phillies back in 1945, then went off to do two years of military service.

He returned to play minor league baseball & got noticed by the Brooklyn Dodger organization when he struck out 25 batters in a 15 inning game setting a pro record. Lasorda even drove in the game winning run, & the Dodgers bought his contract out from the Phillies.

 He was mostly a career minor leaguer, spending 14 seasons there, nine of them at AAA Montreal. He compiled a 107-57 record over those seasons, having his best year in 1954, going 17-8 with a 2.41 ERA. He earned a late season call up, pitching in four games, allowing five runs in nine innings.

In the Brooklyn 1955 Championship season he earned himself a World Series ring, although he only pitched in four games during the regular season posting a 13.50 ERA.

His contract was sold to the Kansas City A’s the next season and he appeared in a career high 18 games going 0-4 with a 6.15 ERA. His contract was eventually sold back to the Dodgers and he finished his playing career at AAA Montreal. His playing career ended in 1960 and he served as a scout in the Dodger organization.

In 1965, he began a seven year stretch as a minor league manager. In 1973, he was named to the Dodgers coaching staff under Manager; Walter Alston. Lasorda was a loud & talkative third base coach for Los Angeles. He got national recognition during the 1974 World Series, in the first all California World Series (Oakland A's vs Los Angeles Dodgers). Lasorda was wired with a microphone by NBC television & his antics were put into that years World Series highlights film.

Lasorda turned down other managerial jobs in order to remain with the Dodgers, & was Alston’s understudy until he retired in 1976. Lasorda was named the new Dodger manager in the bicentennial year.

Lasorda would become one of the games most sucessful managers of all time. He loved to play small ball, & built his teams around solid pitching & regular every day line ups. He had a great ability to get the most out of his young players, & wasn’t afraid to give them a chance in big game opportunities. Lasorda became a media darling, and a Hollywood celebrity.

Local Hollywood stars would hang around the Dodgers clubhouse, especially fellow Italian / American; Frank Sinatra. Lasorda loved the Dodgers, just as much as he loved good Italian food. 

The Dodger infield at the time consisted of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, & Ron Cey all players he helped develop in the minor leagues. 

In his first season at the helm he finished second to the Big Red Machine but he & his Dodgers would shut the machine down taking over the N.L. West from there on in. Over the next two seasons he brought the Dodgers to the World Series, although they fell short of the Worlds Championship in six games both times.

He was the UPI & AP Manager of the Year in 1977. Three seasons later he took them to another World Series in the strike shortened 1981 season, winning the AP Manager of the Year award. His Dodgers won the NLDS over Houston, the NLCS over Montreal & then his first World Series title over the A.L. New York team. Lasorda would win two more Divisional titles in the 1980’s losing in the NLCS both times.

In 1988 the Dodgers came out of nowhere to win the West, beat a heavily favored Mets team in the NLCS & a powerful A’s team in the World Series. He was named Baseball America & Sporting News Manager of the Year. Lasorda would win two more divisional titles in 1994 & 1995 then finish second in 1996, when he retired from managing.

In his 21 year managing career he was 1599-1439 posting a .526 %. He won eight divisional titles, four pennants & two World Series. He managed nine players who won the NL Rookie of the Year award. The winners came in two sets of consecutive players (1979 -1982) Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela & Steve Sax. From (1992 -1995) Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raúl Mondesí & Hideo Nomo. Then in 1996 he also managed that year's rookie of the year, Todd Hollandsworth.

He won his last game as manager & the next day drove himself to the hospital with abdominal pains, as he was having a mild heart attack. 

The following year he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. After managing he became a Dodgers executive & a great ambassador for the game of baseball.
He was then named Dodgers Senior V.P & then special advisor to the Chairman under the new ownership. He has been working for the Dodgers spanning a stretch of seven decade;

Quotes: "I bleed Dodger blue and when I die, I'm going to the big Dodger in the sky." - Tommy Lasorda.

His number 2 was retired by the club in 1997. Lasorda also does motivational speaking, usually averaging over 100 speaking engagements a year. He does everything from charity work with children to international events, military appearances, television shows, book signings, Dodger appearances, Italian American events & just about anything else that comes his way. He was a regular on Johnny Bench’s old TV show the baseball bunch in the early 1980’s, playing the character "The Dugout Wizard".

He was at one time the spokes person for slim fast diet when he actually trimmed down, although he didn’t keep the weight off. He has appeared on the Tonight show many times through the years from the Johnny Carson days to the Conan O’Brien /Jay Leno years. He was known for getting angry and using expletives during TV interviews, even having a fist fight during an TV interview with former coach Jim Lefebvre.

He was a close friend of Mike Piazza’s father who is also from Norristown, Pa. He was Piazza’s godfather & made sure the Dodgers signed the kid as a favor to his father. The rest of course is history. Bobby Valentine also gives Lasorda credit for being his mentor.

In 2000 he managed the United States Olympic team & won the Gold Medal, becoming the first manager to do so as well as win a World Series title. He was coaching third base As honorary captain of the 2001 Al Star Game, when a Vlad Guerrero bat shattered flying down toward the coaches box. Lasorda fell backwards to the amusement of all including himself, of course he was fine. he

In 2006, Lasorda was the recipient of the Branch Rickey Award, which is given to the major league personality who best demonstrates exemplary community service.

In 2009, a portrait of Lasorda in a Dodgers uniform was added to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. He has been honored in Jpan for his work in Japanese baseball, the Dominican Republic as well as Cuba.

Family: Lasorda has been married to his wife Jo for 60 years. In 1991 his son passed away from Aids, but Lasorda insists it was cancer refusing to acknowledge his sons homosexuality. 

The Lasorda’s also have a daughter & granddaughter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I miss Tommy now that baseball is drowning in political correctness and is devoid of color. He was one of the most colorful,funny and inspiring individuals to play, manage and embrace the game. Tommy's leadership skills and positive outlook; his willingness to give interviews and to be real are sorely missed.