1988 Dodgers reflect on Lasorda's influence

January 8th, 2021

As people remember Tommy Lasorda, who passed away Friday at age 93, it’s safe to say his best year as Dodgers manager was in 1988, his second time leading the team to a World Series title.

Lasorda was more than just a manager who dealt with X's and O's. He was a motivational speaker who bled Dodger Blue. No player dared bring negativity into the clubhouse.

“There was nobody in the game who could motivate a ballclub better than Tommy Lasorda,” said Rick Dempsey, a backup catcher on the ’88 team. “He was so good at speaking, he could talk the devil out of hell. He was that good.”

The job Lasorda did in 1988 was amazing. Nobody thought that team would be competitive following 73-89 record in both '86 and '87. But then the team changed direction.

Los Angeles improved its defense by adding shortstop Alfredo Griffin, acquired bullpen help by landing Jay Howell and found better character guys like Kirk Gibson and Mickey Hatcher. It also helped they had an ace in Orel Hershiser, who had a season for the ages by winning 23 games with eight shutouts while setting the Major League record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings.

And who can forget "The Stuntmen"? They were players like Hatcher, Dempsey, Dave Anderson, Franklin Stubbs and Tracy Woodson, all of whom produced off the bench.

Under Lasorda, the Dodgers not only won the National League West title, they upset the Mets in the NL Championship Series. Then, with what broadcaster Bob Costas called one of the weakest teams in World Series history, they upset the heavily favored Athletics in one of baseball’s most memorable Fall Classics.

“No matter what anybody was saying about our club, Tommy said this is the year we turn it around,” said Mike Scioscia, the starting catcher on the team. “He preached that from Day 1. We played above our heads, that’s for sure.”

Every man on that Dodgers team reached on Friday credited Lasorda for getting them to the Promised Land. He managed every game as if he was in the World Series.

“He lived it every day of his life,” Scioscia said. “He had that passion to connect to people. The environment that Tommy worked very hard for is one of confidence and believing in yourself.

“He believed as a team, you could overcome anything. I just know when you get to Dodger Stadium, there was a special feeling. You were going to go out there and you were going to win. That’s what Tommy brought every day of his baseball life.”

Hatcher, who does public appearances for the Dodgers, said his life would be different if not for Lasorda.

“I don’t think my life be anywhere close to what it is now,” Hatcher said. “He was one guy who said, 'Mick, you are special and you need to get into coaching. When your career is over, you need to get an opportunity to become a coach.' Once my playing career was over, my life wasn’t over. [I got an opportunity] to help other kids, other ballplayers. That’s the direction I took. I don’t think that would have happened if I didn’t go back to the Dodgers.”