Walking around Camelback Ranch in recent years, and again at Dodger Stadium at times, occasionally I’d come across a massive, larger-than-life-size Tommy Lasorda bobblehead, and it was always jarring in its scope.
But it didn’t hold a candle to the man himself, whose outsized personality defined his baseball life. Lasorda was the Dodgers.
For 71 years.
Lasorda often said that he bled Dodger blue, which obviously wasn’t true, but sometimes he’d be convincing enough that such a thing could be true. That was Lasorda at his essence, a master salesman who trafficked in belief.
Orel Hershiser is one of the best pitchers in Dodgers history, but success didn’t come easy. Struggling through his first full major league season in 1984, Lasorda coaxed more out of Hershiser, giving him the nickname “Bulldog” as a way to instill confidence. On Friday, Hershiser called Lasorda his baseball father.
“There was never a moment really in my Dodger career that Tommy Lasorda wasn’t by my side, developing my pitching style or developing my character, and really developing my confidence and my belief in myself,” Hershiser said on a conference call. “I’m really still a person that, I don’t run towards success with confidence. I really am running away from defeat and embarrassment.
“I’m running in the same direction as the guys that have a lot of confidence, and a lot of piss and vinegar, that go after things and they really believe in themselves. Tommy found that in me and grew it, and that’s why I owe him almost everything in my life, especially in my professional baseball life.”
Lasorda was brash, and his outbursts quickly became the stuff of legend, whether it was telling a reporter what he really thought of Dave Kingman’s performance, or how Kurt Bevacqua couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a [bleeping] boat, or relishing in getting booed in San Francisco, or perhaps it was seeing Reds manager John McNamara at church.
As Lasorda recalled in The Oklahoman in 2014, “After Mass was over, when we reached the front door, he goes back in and lights a candle. I go around the back of the church and go blow that candle out.”
The stories of Lasorda were legendary. Often funny, and certainly fiery. Players would play pranks on him, celebrities were regulars in the clubhouse and in Lasorda’s office. But somehow, some way, Lasorda always channeled everything toward the Dodgers.
“I believe Tommy Lasorda had no boundaries on a daily basis,” Hershiser said Friday. “There were no boundaries to something positive, something about winning that he could do.”
Lasorda often insisted he wanted to be alive to see the Dodgers win another championship, and eventually got his wish. The last major league game he attended was Game 6 of the 2020 World Series in Arlington, Texas, watching his Dodgers beat the Rays.
With Lasorda, it always came back to the Dodgers.
Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said the plan was to have Lasorda throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Dodgers home opener in 2021. As it stands, there will be some sort of tribute by the team, including wearing a No. 2 patch on jerseys this season.
“You can count on us having a fair amount of programming Opening Day and many days thereafter, honoring Tommy in a way he deserves to be honored as one of the all-time greats and most memorable Dodgers of all time,” Kasten said.
Kasten knew Lasorda through Mike Fratello, who coached the Atlanta Hawks when Kasten was an NBA general manager. He recounted the story of his eight-year-old son getting to meet Lasorda in a locker room after the game.
“My son Cory was getting his autograph, and he made him shake hands and made him say please, the way you’re supposed to,” Kasten recalled. “Then he said, ‘Now repeat after me: I love the Hawks,’ and my son goes, ‘I love the Hawks.’ ‘So now repeat after me: I love the Dodgers.’
“Well, this was a problem for my son. He couldn’t trip my son up on that. ‘But I love the Braves,’ and Tommy just roared with laughter, then he gave him his autograph. ‘To Corey, your friend Tommy Lasorda, you and the Dodgers are great.’ Because that was the ultimate compliment for Tommy Lasorda comparing someone to the Dodgers.
“Fast forward 35 years, I’m now here running the Dodgers, and I see him meet a young kid and go through the same exercise, the same rigmarole, shaking hands, saying please, asking him which team he supports and all that. And he signed the autograph, ‘To Joey, your friend Tommy Lasorda, you and the Dodgers are great.’ That never changed. “
“So today, when I think about saying goodbye to Tommy, the only way I could think to say it is Tommy, we will never forget you, you and the Dodgers are great. Perfect.”
- In his obituary of Lasorda, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register tells the great Buster Maynard story.
- Dylan Hernandez at the Los Angeles Times recalls what Lasorda said he was most proud of: “The first time I came here, I was one of 700 players. And I outlasted every one of those motherf—ers.”
- Lasorda loved the Dodgers so much, he became the Dodgers, writes Bill Plaschke at the LA Times.
- The 1988 Dodgers recall their manager, from Bill Ladson at MLB.com.
- Lasorda was a man all his own to the very end, writes Tim Brown at Yahoo.
- “The methods at times might have bordered on madness, but never was there a doubt—push; push himself, push the team, push the sport,” says Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts.
- From Peter Richmond at GQ in 1992, Lasorda on the death of his son Tommy Jr.
- Tyler Kepner at the New York Times said Lasorda was a celebrity, and a leader.
- Lasorda was a showman who couldn’t turn it off, writes Ray Ratto at Defector.
- Gabe Lacques at USA Today says Lasorda was like no other we’ve ever seen.
- Chris Erskine called Lasorda baseball’s Santa Claus.
- Dodgers historian Mark Langill remembers the one and only Tommy Lasorda.
- Lasorda loved the Dodgers and loved being Tommy Lasorda, says Tim Kurkjian at ESPN.
- Lasorda was a legend who cast a long shadow, writes Michael Baumann at The Ringer.
- Lasorda’s obituary, from Beth Harris at the Associated Press.
- Tom Keegan at the NWI Times in Indiana calls Lasorda “the greatest manager in the history of baseball.”
- Various writers at The Athletic tell their Lasorda stories.
- Brett Hein at the Standard Examiner recalls Lasorda’s days in Ogden.
- Five stories from Lasorda’s playing days, from Ryan Fagan at The Sporting News.
- Steve Dittmore recalls meeting Lasorda at spring training in Vero Beach.
- Lasorda’s daughter Laura asked that, in lieu of flowers, the family has asked donations can be made to Canine Companions for Independence.