In a world in which so many men bottle-up their feelings, let’s take a moment to remember the late, great Tommy Lasorda, a baseball legend who always expressed himself. Whether everybody liked it or not!
Tom Lasorda loved baseball, and baseball fans everywhere loved him… even if they hated him, or, more specifically his Los Angeles Dodgers. Lasorda, who passed away last week of a heart attack at the age of 93 after an assortment of heart-related ailments in recent years, lived for a game at which he didn’t really excel as a player. A pitcher, he amassed an MLB record of just 0-4 with a 6.52 ERA across 26 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics (1954-1956). He made far more of a mark on the game as a coach and manager, working his way up from the minor leagues (1965-1972) to the majors (third base coach from 1973-1976, manager from 1977-1996), spending that entire portion of his career with the Dodgers. Along the way, Lasorda’s Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 and 1988, and he earned Manager of the Year honors in 1983 and 1988. The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee elected him into the Hall in 1997. And he came out of retirement to manage the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to a Gold Medal. Lasorda was a familiar presence at Dodgers spring training over the past couple of decades and for the past 14 years, he served the Dodgers as a special advisor to the owner. All told, he spent 71 years as a part of the Dodgers organization and, as he put it, bled “Dodger blue.”
All of those, however, are mere facts. They don’t reflect the intangibles. Lasorda brought a passion to the game, and it was etched on his face. His smile was contagious, his eyes larger than life. When he jumped for joy, every part of his body did so with him: his jelly belly bounced up and down, and his arms punched the sky with each victory. He also, for better or worse, wore his heart on his sleeve. Fans at games and viewers at home could tell when he was pissed, be it at an umpire, opponents, his own players, or even the Phillie Phanatic. He often delivered epic, profane tirades in the dugout, on the field, and during press conferences.
It surprised nobody, given Lasorda’s popularity, outsized personality, and a knack for winning, that he was among the most recognizable faces in Los Angeles. As a result, he turned up in more than a dozen films and shows, including Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, Ladybugs, The Baseball Bunch, Silver Spoons, Who’s the Boss?, CHiPs, Hart to Hart, Fantasy Island, Hee Haw, Simon & Simon, Everybody Loves Raymond, and American Restoration, usually appearing as himself. He became a go-to pitchman in commercials and counted among his numerous Tinseltown pals the legendary Frank Sinatra.
Additionally, for the past couple of decades — and probably on into eternity — fans at baseball games roared at two of his most (in)famous moments. In one, from 1988, Lasorda kicks the living shit out of the Phillie Phanatic, and he was not playing along. In the other, which took place when he coached third base during the 2001 All-Star Game, Lasorda awkwardly stumbles and tumbles backward while attempting to duck the shattered barrel of Vladimir Guerrero’s bat. We’re smiling now just thinking about it.
Lasorda leaves behind Jo, his wife of 70 years, their daughter, Laura, and granddaughter, Emily. His son, Tom Jr., passed away in 1991.