RIP Tommy Lasorda: Why he bled Dodgers blue until he died
“Blue Heaven on Earth. I used to say, ‘Hey, if you want to get to heaven, you need to go through Dodger Stadium,” Tommy Lasorda explained during his CNN Red Chair interview. If you live in Los Angeles, you don’t just bleed Dodger blue – your heart is Dodger Blue. No one wears that sentiment on their sleeve more than former Los Angeles Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda.
Lasorda died at the age of 93 and has been in and out of the hospital throughout much of 2020. After celebrating his return home from the hospital on Jan. 5th, he suffered a heart attack on Jan. 7th.
Tommy Lasorda’s death sent shockwaves through Los Angeles, the baseball community, and the sports world. Plenty of teams, players, coaches, and fans have taken to social media to mourn the loss of one of Los Angeles’s most prominent sports icons.
A short-lived major league career
No one would describe Tommy Lasorda’s career as short-lived. Lasorda enjoyed a lengthy sixty-three-year career in the Dodgers organization, serving twenty-one years as the team’s manager. Then serving as Senior Advisor to Dodger’s President until his death. The shortest part of his career was his major league pitching career.
The Philadelphia Phillies signed him out of high school in 1945. After a two year service in the Army, the Dodgers drafted Lasorda from the Phillies farm system in 1948. It wouldn’t be until 1948 where he made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. After two seasons the Dodgers cut Lasorda for future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
“It took one of the greatest left-handed pictures in all of baseball to knock me off of that Brooklyn club, and I still think they made a mistake,” Lasorda recounted in an interview.
After stints in Kansas City and with the New York Yankees, Lasorda went back to the Dodgers minor league system. He finished his playing career with the Montreal Royals becoming the winningest pitcher in franchise history with a 107-57 record.
“I won’t wear red.”
Tommy Lasorda went straight from playing to coaching. After becoming a scout in 1960 he bounced around managing different minor league teams. He was then promoted to the Dodgers third-base coach in 1974. Lasorda was sought after and even turned down manager roles from other teams. It was widely known he was the heir to then manager Walter Alston.
Lasorda assumed the manager role in 1976 and held the position for twenty-one years. Under his leadership, the Dodgers made it to four World Series, winning two of them. The most famous being 1988, where Kirk Gibson pinched hit and mashed a walk-off home run into right field to take game 1 of the World Series.
The video of the home run is forever etched into every Dodger fan’s brain. Gibson’s celebration was even copied by Justin Turner when he did the same in 2017, exactly 29 years apart.
Tommy Lasorda never prided himself as a strategically minded coach. He was a legendary motivator and pushed his teams to the limit. It’s probably the reason the Dodgers won the 1988 World Series. They were major underdogs in what should have been an open and shut series. However, the Dodgers won in five games.
Former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia explained to The New York Times after game 1 of the 1988 World Series, “Someone else saying it might seem corny, but when Tommy says it, you know he believes what he’s saying.” In the same article, Lasorda summed up his views of the manager’s job:
“If I can get those guys to believe in themselves, if I can get those guys to put forth all the effort that they have, if I can get those guys to play the game with an unselfish attitude and put the winning of the team ahead of their own individual accomplishments, if I can get those guys to be proud of the uniform that they’re wearing, if I can get those guys when they’re at home with their family and they look up at that clock, to say, ‘I can’t wait another 15 minutes and I’m headed for the ballpark,’ that’s the responsibility of the manager.”
His years as a scout helped him as a manager. Lasorda managed nine National League Rookie of the Year award winners. He managed greats like Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza.
While he motivated his teams to win, he was a competitive manager at heart. He was known by other teams and umpires as hot-tempered and would argue calls on the regular. He also hated mascots getting into fights with the Phillie Phanatic and the San Diego Padres chicken and got the Montreal Expos Uppie ejected from a game.
A Los Angeles sports icon
Not many are cemented as sports icons in Los Angeles. Tommy Lasorda is on a list of immediately recognizable faces in Los Angeles. He and legendary broadcaster Vin Scully arguably created the list with players like Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the late Kobe Bryant joining.
Lasorda was always at Dodger Stadium attending games. He was even at the 2020 World Series, where the Dodgers snap a thirty-two-year championship drought. Before Dave Roberts managed to bring the championship back to Los Angeles, Tommy Lasorda was the last manager to do so.
Lasorda constantly got in fights with anyone who spoke negatively about the Dodgers. He loved the team and as a scout told his wife he would manage the team against the Yankees in the World Series one day, and it came true in 1977. The Dodgers lost the series twice but returned the favor in 1981.
However, his love of baseball goes beyond the Dodgers. He managed the Olympic Gold Medal winning USA team in the 2000 Summer Olympics. He motivated that team to defeat favored Cuba. He’s told the story many times how coaches don’t get a medal, but he got his medal when “they put a medal around [his] players.”
Lasorda became the biggest ambassador of the sport traveling to spread baseball around the globe, playing for and managing teams around the world during his career. He won two National League Manager of the Year awards, has his jersey number retired, and a portrait in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.
Tommy Lasorda’s gone on record wanting two things in his death: to be buried under the pitcher’s mound and to have the Dodgers’ home schedule on his tombstone. Hopefully, Lasorda gets his wish.