Jan 22, 2021

Remembering Italian / American Baseball Legend -Tommy Lasorda

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born September 22, 1927 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. 

Lasorda originally signed a baseball contract with the local Philadelphia Phillies back in 1945, but then went off for 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 semi-pro record. That day, Lasorda even drove in the game winning run. The Brooklyn Dodgers then bought out his contract from the Phillies.

Lasorda was mostly a career minor leaguer, spending 14 seasons in the minors, nine of them at AAA Montreal. The right handed pitcher, went 107-57 record in those seasons. He had  his best year in 1954, going 17-8 with a 2.41 ERA. 

MLB Call Up: He earned a late season call up to Brooklyn, pitching in four games, allowing five runs in nine innings. 

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

His contract was then sold to the Kansas City A’s. In 1956 he made five starts & pitched 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 in their minor leagues at AAA Montreal. 

His pitching career ended in 1960 and he quickly was hired as a scout in the Dodger organization.

Coaching & Managing Career: 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.


Dodgers Manager: Lasorda would become one of the games most successful 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- Tommy Lasorda: "I bleed Dodger blue and when I die, I'm going to the big Dodger in the sky." 

Honors: His number 2 was retired by the club in 1997. 

Lasorda then did everything he could & was highly sought after.

He did motivational speaking, usually averaging over 100 speaking engagements a year. 

He did charity work with children, international events, military appearances, television shows, book signings & of course, Dodger events.

Lasorda was seen at Italian American events & just about anything else that came 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 famously went after the Phillie mascot, the Phillie Phanatic, in between innings of a game at Veteran Stadium, after the mascot had poked fun of Lasorda with a mannequin of the manager.



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 too long. 

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. 

 The animated Italian American, 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.


Lasorda was a close friend of Mike Piazza’s father who is also from Norristown, Pa. He was Mike Piazza's younger brothers godfather. Lasorda made sure the Dodgers gave the kid Mike, chance. 

They signed Piazza as a favor to his father. The rest of course is history, as Piazza is now in the Hall of Fame. 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. 

In 2001 he was coaching third base as honorary captain of the NL in the All Star Game, when a Vlad Guerrero bat shattered flying down toward the coaches box. Lasorda fell backwards to the amusement of the players, fans & himself. He got up & after some joking, was fine. 



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 Japan for his work in Japanese baseball, the Dominican Republic as well as Cuba.

Family:
Lasorda was married to his wife Jo for 71 years, they were married in 1950.  They had two children. 

In 1991 their 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. 


He was a practicing Roman Catholic & would have a Priest come to Dodger Stadium on Sundays to serve Mass for Catholic Players.

Passing: In November of 2020 he was hospitalized with heart issues. He remained in the hospital for two months but was released on January 5th 2021. Two days later he was rushed back to the hospital & passed away from cardiac arrest. He was 93.


I had a chance to meet Lasorda at the Shea Stadium Diamond Club around 2005. Of course he was holding court at a table & asked for a picture. He gladly posed with me, but my girl friend didn't take a great shot, since these were early cell phone cameras. 

I had to go back again & when I interrupted his meal again, he said with typical Lasorda sarcasm "what happened to the last one we took?"! 
He did let me take another, although he looks a bit bothered & then went back to his meal. I certainly understand, don't mess with an Italian when he's eating!







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.