All-Star Game in San Diego special to Lasorda

Former Dodgers skipper won 1978 Midsummer Classic at San Diego

July 8th, 2016
Tommy Lasorda picked up the first of his three All-Star Game victories in 1978 at San Diego. (Getty)

All-Star Games in San Diego have always been special to Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda. The former Dodgers skipper managed the National League All-Stars four times, but his first of three victories was in 1978 at San Diego.

With the Midsummer Classic returning to San Diego at Petco Park on Tuesday, refreshing memories of the previous two in the beautiful city is an effortless task.

Lasorda isn't alone.

I've covered 46 All-Star Games, including the two that have been played in San Diego.

If the 1978 game is No. 1 on Lasorda's list, none of the other 45 will ever top 1992 for me. More about that later.

Lasorda, who'd taken over the Dodgers from legendary manager Walter Alston with a few games remaining in 1976, led them to the World Series in '77. They lost to the Yankees in six games, but being there in October earned Tommy the honor of managing the NL All-Stars -- against Billy Martin on July 11, 1978.

"That first one was so important to me, just down the road in San Diego," Lasorda told me. "What I remember more than anything was here I was managing the All-Star team. That made an enormous impression on me, because during my Minor League days of managing, I never thought I would be managing an All-Star team in the Major Leagues. It was a big, big moment in my life.

"You know, there are guys who manage in the big leagues their whole lives and never get the chance to skipper an All-Star team."

The Lasorda-Martin antics were worth the price of admission.

And for Tommy, the 7-3 National League win at what was then San Diego Stadium, couldn't have turned out better had it been a Hollywood script.

For openers, with a winning four-run rally in the eighth inning, Lasorda gained a small measure of revenge over Martin, who'd beaten his Dodgers in the World Series.

Remember that Series? Reggie Jackson blasted three homers in Game 6, sending the beaten Dodgers home for the winter.

But in the 1978 All-Star Game, there was the matter of those four eighth-inning runs coming at the expense of Yankees reliever Goose Gossage. He was building his Hall of Fame career after signing a lucrative contract with New York following the '77 season.

Add to that Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey. He singled, tripled, drove in two runs and was named MVP. Garvey would go on that season to hit 21 homers, drive in 113 runs, bat .303 and lead the Dodgers to another NL pennant, paving the way for a second All-Star gig (1979) for his manager.

Overall, Tommy had six Dodgers on that 1978 All-Star squad.

"Yeah, you're right. It was like a Hollywood script," said the 88-year-old Lasorda, now senior advisor to the Dodgers' chairman and in his 67th year with the organization. "It was just a big thrill for me to see my players there. And Garvey is the MVP!"

I remember at the media session the day before the game, Lasorda's humor and enthusiasm dominated the session. He chose the Giants' Vida Blue to start for the NL. When reporters asked why he made that choice, Lasorda said, "Why wouldn't I? He deserves it. He's a 12-game winner and has that low ERA (2.42)."

Lasorda remembered: "He became the first pitcher ever to start an All-Star Game in both leagues." (Blue, pitching for Oakland, started for the AL in 1971 and '75).

Martin picked the Orioles' Jim Palmer, already on a path to the Hall of Fame.

But after the AL took a quick 3-0 lead, the NL tied it in the bottom of the third when Palmer walked the Phillies' Greg Luzinski with the bases loaded and Garvey then delivered a two-run single.

Philadelphia's Bob Boone, who drove in two runs in the eighth with a single, remembers how excited the NL players were before the game.

"Pete Rose walked around the clubhouse, ranting about how important it was for the NL to win," Boone, now the Washington Nationals' vice president for player development, remembered the other day. "By the time we took the field, it was almost as if we had already won the game. Yes, that was a big hit for me."

Always a sentimentalist, with two outs in the ninth inning, Lasorda removed the Cubs' Bruce Sutter, the winning pitcher, and summoned Atlanta knuckleballer Phil Niekro, who got the Royals' Darrell Porter to pop out and end the game.

"I wanted Knucksie to pitch, because at 39, it was probably his last All-Star Game," said Lasorda. And it was.

"Years later in the 1990s, when he was in charge of that girls team called the Colorado Silver Bullets, I had a niece from Louisiana who was a good player," said Lasorda "I wanted her to play on that team so I called him. I said, 'Hey, Phil. Remember when I picked you and put you in the '78 All-Star Game?' He said, 'How can I ever forget that? I'll always be grateful.' He put her on the team and she played five years."

Niekro, a Hall of Famer, recruited the best female ballplayers in the country, mostly top college softball players who went up against Minor League and college baseball teams.

Lasorda won as the NL manager in 1979 and '82. His only setback came in 1989 when he lost to another Hall of Fame manager, Oakland's Tony La Russa, 5-3.

The 1992 game, played at the same ballpark, but renamed Jack Murphy Stadium, was more about how I got there than the fact Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. led the AL to a 13-6 win and was named MVP.

The week before the game, I received a call from the White House asking if I would like to travel aboard Air Force One with President George H. W. Bush to San Diego.

I had interviewed him several times in the White House, but few experiences as a baseball reporter equaled this one. Bush had a great passion for baseball, was the captain of his team at Yale and has always followed the game closely. In 1992, his son George W. owned the Texas Rangers.

As we sat in a conference room aboard Air Force One at 35,000 feet, the president opened a newspaper and methodically we went over the players who would later that day be in the All-Star Game.

"I have to go with the Rangers' guys tonight," he said, looking over the bios of AL starter Kevin Brown, Ivan Rodriguez and Ruben Sierra. "My son would be unhappy with me if I didn't."

Little did I know that the son nine years later would himself be in the White House.

"He knows baseball well," said the president. "A lot of his fellow owners speak well of him, which obviously pleases the father. But I stay out of it, for the most part."

Then, with a frown, he said: "We were a little surprised last week when he fired his longtime manager, Bobby Valentine. Barbara and I really liked Bobby, but George said it was a very difficult decision."

In an hour or so, the Boeing 747 landed. There was a motorcade to the ballpark and the former Yale left-hander threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

I sat in the press box with a game to cover.

The AL was up 10-1 after six innings. My trip to San Diego was more exciting.