Tommy Lasorda, Dodgers Former Manager Who Bled Blue, Dies at 93
(Bloomberg) -- Tommy Lasorda, the baseball ambassador who said he bled Dodgers blue during a seven-decade association with the team and was the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame, has died. He was 93.
Lasorda managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for 20 seasons, winning World Series titles in 1981 and 1988, four National League pennants and eight division titles.
Lasorda suffered a mild heart attack on June 4, 2012, while attending Major League Baseball’s amateur draft in New York.
“The doctors confirmed I do bleed Dodger Blue,” he said in a statement released the following day.
Thomas Charles Lasorda was born on Sept. 22, 1927, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.
After signing with his hometown Phillies organization as an amateur free agent before the 1945 season, he was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1948 minor-league draft.
A left-handed pitcher, Lasorda spent 14 seasons in the minors between 1945 and 1960, serving in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1947.
In parts of three Major League Baseball campaigns, he went 0-4 with a 6.48 ERA while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and 1955 and the Kansas City Athletics in 1956. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
After retiring as a player at the conclusion of the 1960 season, Lasorda spent 12 years as a Dodgers’ scout and minor-league manager before joining the big-league club as the third-base coach under Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston. He replaced Alston, who retired, on Sept. 29, 1976, and went on to become the National League’s Manager of the Year in 1983 and 1988.
Lasorda was elected to the Cooperstown, New York-based National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. He became the oldest living member Hall of Famer when Red Schoendienst,who spent the bulk of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, died in June 2018.
Dusty Baker, one of 15 players Lasorda managed who later became major-league managers themselves, cited Lasorda’s unending belief in his players as his most influential trait.
Facing hard-throwing pitcher J.R. Richards -- his nemesis -- on the final day of the 1977 season, Baker had two at-bats left and was one home run shy of hitting his 30th that year, a mark he had never reached. Baker told Lasorda that he didn’t think he was going to get it.
“He got upset and told me about the Lord parting the Red Sea and everything, and I said ‘OK, Tommy, that’s enough. I believe,’” Baker recalled, laughing, in a June 2012 interview.
“The next at-bat I went up there and hit my 30th home run.”
“I told you! I told you!” Lasorda shouted when he returned to the dugout, Baker said.
Lasorda stepped down in 1996 and became a Dodgers’ vice president. He managed the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal over Cuba in 2000 in Sydney, was named the official ambassador of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 and became a special adviser to Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter.
A renowned food lover who was a pitchman for Slim-Fast diet shakes and Rolaids antacid tablets, Lasorda was among the game’s most colorful promoters. He became close friends with stars such as Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson and became somewhat of a performer himself, engaging in several memorable tirades that put the spotlight on him and away from his players.
When Lasorda’s Dodgers, one of baseball’s marquee franchises, visited the Philadelphia Phillies during the early 1980s, he had several on-field run-ins with the team’s mascot, the Phanatic.
Lasorda had built a friendship with Dave Raymond, who played the furry green creature, during an All-Star trip to Japan in 1980. The two would often interact before games, with the Phanatic taunting Lasorda and the manager acting increasingly angry. Once, after he and his beloved Dodgers had taken too much ribbing he got genuinely mad, chased down the mascot, beat him with the Phanatic’s life-sized Lasorda dummy and almost ripped off his costume head, according to Raymond.
“The best thing about Tommy is how much he makes people love baseball,” Raymond said in a June 2012 interview. “Tommy has always recognized that in order for you to sell -- and he was definitely selling the Dodgers brand -- that developing, maintaining and being true to that character was important.”
On the final page of “The Artful Dodger,” his 1985 autobiography, Lasorda wrote that he used to tell people that when he died he wanted to be buried beneath the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium. Told that would be impossible, he wrote that he decided to settle for an epitaph on his tombstone that reads: “Tommy Lasorda, Dodger Stadium was his address, but every ball park was his home.”
Lasorda and his wife, Jo, had a daughter, Laura. Their son, Tom Jr., died of pneumonia at age 33.
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