Off to See The Big Dodger In The Sky: Lasorda Dead At 93
The man who famously said he bled “Dodger blue” had a remarkable life and career that made the game and the people in it better.
Over-the-top, infectious, passionate, gregarious: all words to describe Tommy Lasorda, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager who died Thursday at the age of 93. In a time when players were still being hit in the ribs for showing any kind of emotion, Lasorda overflowed with the stuff, alternating between cheerleader, mentor, and one of the great arguers in baseball history. Unabashedly paunchy with a diet of wine and pasta, he was often the butt of jokes made by fans of his opponents, but no one really doubted the man knew baseball. His personality was so prevalent, it may have actually outweighed his accomplishments, of which there were many: four National League Pennants, eight division titles, two World Series titles (1981 and ’88), Manager of the Year twice (’83 and ’88) and manager of the upset kids who won 2000 Olympic Gold over the heavily-favored Cuba team.
Of course, his most famous moment came out of desperation. Lasorda often managed by feel and enthusiasm instead of numbers and certainly didn’t always do what most managers would have done. His most famous “gut” moment was listening to injured outfielder Kirk Gibson when he said he could pinch hit in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Lasorda sent him to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and L.A. losing to the Oakland Athletics 4-3. The ensuing home run is one of the greatest moments in sports history, let alone baseball. It wouldn’t have happened without Lasorda.
For a time, as free agency allowed franchise faces to come and go, Lasorda was the face of the Dodgers and his love of the game and talking about the game was partly responsible for the game maintaining its popularity through the 1990s. “Always give an autograph when somebody asks you,” he said. He also had fun. Comedian Don Rickles was sent to the mound once to make a change. He also once asked an umpire, “What would you do?” during another change. For 71 years with the Dodgers, he was a quote machine, on par with Yogi Berra:
“Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you, have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?”
“He (Darryl Strawberry) is not a dog. A dog is loyal and runs after balls.”
are among my favorites.
And, of course, he was one of the great slobbering, dirt-kickers in baseball history when he felt an umpire had robbed his team, or if he felt they needed a jolt. He was a manager, a mentor and immensely entertaining. Commissioner Rob Manfred offered this tribute:
“I am extremely fortunate to have developed a wonderful friendship with Tommy and will miss him. It feels appropriate that in his final months, he saw his beloved Dodgers win the World Series for the first time since his 1988 team. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest sympathy to his wife of 70 years, Jo, and their entire family, the Dodger organization and their generations of loyal fans.”
Lasorda was famous for saying he bled Dodger Blue and would some day visit the “big Dodger in the sky.” He also said Jo was under orders to post the Dodgers’ home schedule on his tombstone. I’d bet the 2021 schedule will soon waving in the breeze under the name “Lasorda.”
For all he did for the game, he deserves at least that much. M
Editor note: the story erroneously stated that Lasorda’s team won the gold in the 1988 Olympics. That team did win it all but baseball was a demonstration sport. Mike Marquess, Stanford’s head coach for 41 seasons, was the head coach of that squad. Lasorda managed the 2000 team to gold. We apologize for the error.