Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda dies at 93

Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda dies at 93
Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda dies at 93

The Dodgers announced Friday that Lasorda suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home.

Pugnacious Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who “bled Dodger blue” and skippered Los Angeles to four league pennants and two world titles, died Thursday night, the team announced.

He was 93.

Lasorda suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at his home and was transported to a hospital, where he died at 10:57 p.m. PST, the Dodgers said in a statement on Friday.

“Regarded by many as baseball’s most popular ambassador, Lasorda spent 71 seasons in the Dodger organization with Dodger Blue running through his veins,” according to team’s statement.

Retired Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully said he’ll always remember Lasorda for his “competitive spirit, his determination, and above all, his boundless energy and self-belief” that turned a career minor league pitcher to Hall of Fame manager.

“His heart was bigger than his talent and there were no foul lines for his enthusiasm,” Scully said in a statement released by the team on Friday.

Lasorda was last seen in public on Oct. 27 at Game 6 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas, as he witnessed his beloved Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays, capturing the organization’s seventh world title.

It was Los Angeles’ first World Series championship since 1988, when Lasorda was at the helm of the Brooklyn-rooted franchise.

“That’s one of my proudest moments, that we got to fulfill one of his dreams,” to see L.A. win one more world title, current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told MLB Network.

“We cannot ever forget the love he had for baseball, in general, the Dodgers in particular. Win or lose, he bled Dodger blue and just continued to share that passion, that love. Let his legacy live on forever.”

Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen paid tribute to Lasorda on Friday by tweeting video of the former skipper singing with a mariachi band.

“Tommy Lasorda, this wonderful man, Hall of Famer in baseball and in life, this is him, so much joy,” Jansen wrote. “To win, to love this game, to live and play with joy was his message to us.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Lasorda the “face of the franchise and the soul of this city.”

“I loved watching him as a kid take our boys in blue to two World Series championships and spending time with him as an adult, sitting with him in his office or visiting with him behind home plate,” Garcetti said in a statement Friday.

A long career
Lasorda managed the Dodgers for more than 20 seasons, overseeing 1,599 Los Angeles victories and 1,439 defeats, a 52.6-percent winning percentage. He died holding the title “special adviser to the chairman” in the Dodgers front office.

Lasorda’s Dodgers captured the pennant in his first two full seasons in charge, 1977 and 1978, falling to the New York Yankees in the World Series both years.

He led L.A. to the world title in the shortened, strike-marred 1981 campaign, vanquishing the nemesis Yankees.

Arguably, Lasorda’s greatest work came in 1988 when underdog L.A. toppled the powerful New York Mets for the pennant before stunning the mighty Oakland A’s to win it all.

In Game 1 of that Fall Classic, Oakland led, 4-3, with two outs and no one on base, in the bottom of the ninth inning in L.A. That’s when Lasorda pushed buttons, leading to one of the most memorable World Series endings in the sport’s history.

First, he sent Mike Davis to pinch hit against Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, and the veteran outfielder rewarded Lasorda’s faith with a walk.

Then Lasorda called on another pinch hitter, hobbling star Kirk Gibson, who struggled to even reach home plate due to various leg injures.

The ensuing at-bat will live forever in baseball lore.

Gibson’s game-winning blast into the right field bleachers prompted play-by-play man Vin Scully to famously tell NBC viewers that Saturday night: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”

Lasorda won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 1983 and 1988. He also managed division-winning teams in 1983, 1985, 1994 and 1995 in addition to those four World Series appearances.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, left, shares one of the Los Angeles Dodgers' World Championship trophies with former President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and Dodgers executive vice-president Fred Claire, right, before home opener at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 13, 1989.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, left, shares one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ World Championship trophies with former President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and Dodgers executive vice-president Fred Claire, right, before home opener at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 13, 1989.

Lasorda was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and had been the oldest living member of that exclusive club.

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born Sept. 22, 1927 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, to mother Carmella Cavatto Lasorda and father Sabatino Lasorda, who came to U.S. shores from Abruzzo, Italy, via Ellis Island.

“He came here because his brothers were here and he couldn’t get any work over there,” Lasorda told L.A. PBS affiliate KCET in 2012. “He started working here on the railroad and getting different jobs. And then he began to work for Bethlehem Steel, which had a quarry over in Norristown, Pennsylvania. That’s what he did for years.”

That immigrant’s love for America was never far beneath Lasorda’s surface. After retiring from the Dodgers, he managed Team USA to gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Lasorda has long maintained that unlikely gold-medal run, with a team of has-beens and unknown minor leaguers, meant as much to him as any pennant or World Series title. Even though Lasorda didn’t receive a medal, as the head coach, he reveled in the red, white and blue glory of victory.

“People said, ‘You know, you don’t get a gold medal,’ ” Lasorda said in the Bud Greenspan movie, “Sydney 2000: Stories of Olympic Glory.”

“I said, ‘I got my gold medal when I saw them putting the medal around their necks (of American players). I got my gold medal when I saw them raise that (U.S.) flag. I got my gold medal when they played the (U.S.) national anthem.’ ”

As a player, the left-handed Lasorda toiled as a minor league pitcher for most of his career and enjoyed cups of MLB coffee in the mid-1950s with then- Brooklyn Dodgers and -Kansas City A’s.

He pitched in four games for the 1955 Dodgers, the famed “Boys of Summer” team that won Brooklyn’s first and only world title.

After retiring as a player, Lasorda was hired as a scout by long-time Dodgers executive and future L.A. general manager Al Campanis.

Lasorda moved his way up L.A.’s chain of command and was the team’s third base coach when he was tabbed to take over the dugout from Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston, who retired in 1976.

Personal life
The colorful — and often confrontational — Lasorda reveled in the L.A. limelight and rarely passed up a chance to utter a headline-grabbing quote.

His May 14, 1978 rant — when a local reporter asked him to comment on Dave Kingman, an all-or-nothing slugger for the Chicago Cubs, who swatted three home runs that day — has been played for decades on L.A. radio, in all of its four-letter, bleeping grandeur.

He basked in the stardom and celebrity contacts he made as Dodgers manager. Lasorda hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra and once had his pal, comedy legend Don Rickles, put on a Dodgers uniform and sit with him in the dugout for the final day of the 1977 season.

The single most sorrowful moment of Lasorda’s magical two-decade-long reign over L.A. came on June 3, 1991 when his only son, Thomas C. “Spunky” Lasorda Jr., died of pneumonia at the age of 33.

The younger Lasorda was gay and, for a time, dated Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke, according to the 2011 documentary movie “Out: The Glenn Burke Story.”

“He (Lasorda Jr.) was a little bit more, I think overt about” his homosexuality, former Dodgers outfielder and Lasorda protege Reggie Smith said in the documentary.

“Tommy probably took him on road trips to kind of help keep an eye on him and certainly when he found out that (his son was gay), Tommy was probably one of the most disappointed people and hurt by it.”

Lasorda said his son wasn’t gay and insisted AIDS played no role in the tragedy.

“My son wasn’t gay,” he told GQ magazine in 1992. “No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a f–kin’ monkey, too. That’s not the f–kin’ truth. That’s not the truth.”

He added: “I know what my son died of. I know what he died of. The doctor put out a report of how he died. He died of pneumonia.”

Two months after Spunky’s death, the perpetually optimistic Lasorda said he was grateful for the time he spent with his son.

“Every time I think about my son, I just get very, very sad,” Lasorda told the Los Angeles Times. “But you know something? If God said he would give me a son and then take him away after 32 years, I would say, ‘Damn right. I’ll take him.’ I’m glad for the time we had together.”


Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda speaks to the fans prior to the final night game at 3Com Park in San Francisco on Sept. 29, 1999.

Baseball rivalries
For decades, Lasorda was the smiling, if not boastful, face of the famed baseball franchise, bragging that he “bled Dodger blue” and upon death he’d be “the big Dodger in the sky.”

Lasorda particularly enjoyed the scorn heaped on him by fans of the arch-rival San Francisco Giants.

He reveled in the shower of boos and taunts hurled at him when the Dodgers would have to march from the third-base dugout at old Candlestick Park to the visitors clubhouse, oddly located down the right-field line.

Lasorda had retired by the time the Giants had built a new stadium in downtown San Francisco. But for laughs, Lasorda paid a visit to Candlestick in September 1999 when the Dodgers played their final games there — and recreated that march, just so he could blow kisses to the predictably scornful Giants’ faithful.

“We will never forget his good humored banter and the long walks he’d take across the field at Candlestick Park blowing kisses to Giants fans,” the Giants said in a tribute to Lasorda.

“He deeply respected and symbolized the great Giants-Dodgers rivalry.”

The long-time Dodgers manager even joked that he needed prayer and divine guidance in 2014 when having to present an award to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group reported.

“When I said my prayers last night, first of all I asked God for forgiveness,” he said. “I said: Dear Lord, I’m going to have to give a trophy to a Giant. The good Lord said, ‘Tommy, the guy you’re going to honor is great. Outstanding manager. A manager that has been so successful, well-liked, nice, easy-going guy. For me to allow him to receive the Tommy Lasorda award, you know there’s something wrong in his dinner tonight.’ ”

Lasorda is survived by his wife of 70 years, Jo, their daughter Laura Lasorda and granddaughter Emily Tess.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *