Growing up in the LA area in the 1970s, I bled Dodger blue and loved Tommy Lasorda, who was a welcome upgrade in enthusiasm over the somnambulistic Walter Alston (though I gather Alston is considered to have been a great baseball manager—I’ll leave it to Paul for the final verdict). That was back when baseball offered continuity from season to season before free agency ran wild and scrambled lineups every year. One constant of my early adulthood was LA smog, and the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield, which I believe is still the longest-serving infield in baseball history, and likely to be that way from now on.
I once saw Lasorda dining out at the legendary LA Tommy’s Burger, where he was holding court as only he could. But I also got to meet him in person once in fluky circumstances—in the winter of 1977, the year the Dodgers first made it to the World Series under his leadership. My small Oregon college hosted every winter a well-regarded baseball camp over a weekend in January, always attracting some major league players. That year the headliners were Lasorda and the recently retired Hank Aaron. As it happened, being the peculiar student as I was, on Saturday morning I used to get up very early while the rest of the student body slept in, make my way to the locker room in the gym and go out for a long run. (I ran the 3,000 meter steeplechase for the track team that year, so I needed to get in some serious road miles on the weekends.)
Lo and behold, I went into the small locker room where my running gear was stashed, which was completely empty except for . . . Tommy Lasorda and Hank Aaron, changing into their field uniforms. So there I was, amidst these two legends who were joshing it up big time. They mostly ignored me, and I mostly kept quiet beyond saying “Go Dodgers!” to Lasorda. Lasorda dominated the conversation, with Aaron mostly laughing and mocking Lasorda’s f-bomb laden rants about this and that. I thought then that the Dodgers would surely be going to the World Series that year (as they did), because their clubhouse must be “lit,” as the saying goes today.
Which brings me to two of my favorite public Lasorda memories. First, the time he attacked the Philly Phanatic mascot that was mocking him at a game. (“That’s the quickest Tommy’s moved all year!”)
And then there’s his famous rant during an after-game press conference, when asked to comment about Dave Kingman’s three-home run performance against the Dodgers. This version has his chief adjectives bleeped out, so it is PG-rated:
PAUL CONCURS: My impression is the same as Steve’s. Lasorda gave the Dodgers a big boost when he replaced Alston. And Alston, whose career record was better than Lasorda’s, was an excellent manager.
By the way, Lasorda was an outstanding minor league pitcher. From 1950-1954, he won 66 games and lost only 30. And in 1958, we went 18-6 with a 2.50 ERA. All of this was for Montreal, a Triple A team.