By David A. Avila
Publish date: Jan. 10, 2021
If the city of Angels survives another 100 years few names will be more remembered than Tommy Lasorda, the Los Angeles Dodger skipper and figurehead of the team for more than seven decades.
Lasorda, 93, passed away on Friday Jan. 8 at his home in Fullerton after spending weeks hospitalized. The massive Dodger nation weeps along with other lovers of our nation’s longest professional sport.
Born in Scranton, Penn. Lasorda spent 71 years as a member of the Dodgers. He began as a scrappy left-handed pitcher, proceeded to become a scout, then coach and eventually the manager of the Dodgers. While helming the team he led them to four National League pennants and two World Championships in 1981 and 1988.
Many remember Lasorda coining the phrase “Dodger Blue” which became a rallying cry for all future members of the Dodgers. From teams featuring Bill Russell, Dave Lopes, Steve Garvey and Ron Cey an infield that set a record for the longest running infield to rosters featuring back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners Mike Piazza and Eric Karros.
One after another new Dodger passed through the organization greeted by Lasorda and given the mantra of “bleeding Dodger blue.” Though taken tongue in cheek, it became a theme for those wearing the uniform that being a Dodger was a unique opportunity.
Anyone who met Lasorda can remember that day vividly.
For me it was in the year 1994 when Major League Baseball ended abruptly amid a strike and a World Series did not occur. It was a strange year and I entered the bowels of Dodger Stadium in search of a rookie player Raul Mondesi. While searching the dark halls I heard a voice call out to me.
“Hey kid. Who you looking for?” asked Lasorda who was in a t-shirt and Dodger hat peering out of a doorway. I told Lasorda I was a reporter and he immediately invited me into his office where a spread of delicatessen foods and drinks filled more than 7 feet of his large office.
A man sitting with his back turned toward me turned around and surprisingly it was Dodger radio and TV announcer Vin Scully. I sat there listening to the pair of icons talk about Brooklyn Dodger stories. As each shared their tales, I looked around the room at the photos of Hollywood celebrities on the walls of the office. I sat quietly in fear they might kick me out. I wanted to hear more of their stories.
Eventually a Dodger workhand walked into the office to check on Lasorda. The Dodger manager asked the worker to help me find Mondesi and that ended my stay in the office. I thanked Lasorda and Scully and scurried out of there.
For years later I would run into Lasorda and he would do a double-take and say, “how you doing kid?” It became a common but privileged greeting that I never tired of hearing though I’m now in my 60s.
The last time I encountered Lasorda was on the Dodger infield watching batting practice. As he walked by, he recognized me and once again “how you doing kid?” It surprised a few of the regular Dodger beat reporters who did not get the same recognition. Maybe Tommy still remembered inviting into his office for Italian style deli sandwiches.
Pitchers always remember faces. It’s part of the business of being a pitcher to remember which hitters like certain pitches and who can do damage against you with a poorly placed fastball. Lasorda, after all, is a pitcher at heart. I was a pitcher too in my day, just like Lasorda -a lefthander with a curveball. To this day, I can still recall who hit a homer off my change-up and who liked fastballs on the outside corner. It’s a pitcher’s memory.
But it doesn’t take a pitcher’s memory to realize that the name and face of Lasorda will remain vivid for people of Los Angeles and baseball fans for decades to come.
Former Dodger Bobby Valentine remembers walking down the sidewalk streets of Manhattan with Lasorda years ago. Immediately cars honked and men shouted “Tommy Lasorda!” Though Valentine had been the manager of the New York Mets it was Lasorda that people of New York City recognized. Anywhere Lasorda ventured he was recognized, that’s how much of an influence he held on the game of baseball.
When the Dodgers finally won the World Series this past October after 32 years, many current Dodgers and former players cited their happiness that Lasorda lived to see it.
“Everyone is so happy to see that Tommy got to see the Dodgers win another world championship,” said Orel Hershiser the former Dodger ace and now TV announcer for the organization.
It was a fitting moment to close the final chapter of a great Dodger icon.