Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda dies at 93

January 8th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Tommy Lasorda, the son of Italian immigrants and a professional pitcher who became a legendary Dodgers manager, global baseball ambassador and national treasure, died on Thursday. He was 93.

Commissioner Rob Manfred issued the following statement:

“Tommy Lasorda was one of the finest managers our game has ever known. He loved life as a Dodger. His career began as a pitcher in 1949 but he is, of course, best known as the manager of two World Series champions and four pennant-winning clubs. His passion, success, charisma and sense of humor turned him into an international celebrity, a stature that he used to grow our sport. Tommy welcomed Dodger players from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere -- making baseball a stronger, more diverse and better game. He served Major League Baseball as the Global Ambassador for the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic and managed Team USA to gold in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Tommy loved family, the United States, the National Pastime and the Dodgers, and he made them all proud during a memorable baseball life.

“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.”

In three seasons as a Major League pitcher, Lasorda went 0-4 and reminded nobody of Sandy Koufax, who replaced him on the Brooklyn roster. But as the Dodgers manager for two decades, Lasorda crafted a body of work that earned him a place alongside Koufax in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Before his death, Lasorda was the oldest living Hall of Famer, a distinction that now passes to Willie Mays, 89.

He died after serving in his 71st season with the Dodgers, an extraordinary display of loyalty. He spent the past two decades as a special advisor to the chairman (currently Mark Walter), having been rescued by previous chairman Frank McCourt from an exile imposed when News Corp. bought the club from Peter O’Malley and his sister, Terry Seidler.

“My family, my partners and I were blessed to have spent a lot of time with Tommy,” said Walter in a statement. “He was a great ambassador for the team and baseball, a mentor to players and coaches, he always had time for an autograph and a story for his many fans and he was a good friend. He will be dearly missed.”

Lasorda’s career began as a smallish left-handed pitcher with a big heart and fighting spirit. When that dream ended, he switched to scouting, then built a résumé as a Minor League manager, Major League third-base coach, Hall of Fame Major League manager, acting general manager and senior vice president.

He earned eight honorary doctorate degrees, had an asteroid named after him by Cal Tech, had a wife (Jo) of 70 years and was still making appearances every year on behalf of the Dodgers and MLB. He is in 17 Halls of Fame, and if they had one for eating, he’d be in there, too. He savored the “fruits of victory,” not to mention industrial-sized portions of linguini and clams.

Lasorda was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 on the strength of 20-plus seasons managing the Dodgers (1976-96). He is one of only four managers in big league history to manage the same team for 20 years or more -- the others being Connie Mack, John McGraw and Lasorda's predecessor, Walter Alston.

"In a franchise that has celebrated such great legends of the game, no one who wore the uniform embodied the Dodger spirit as much as Tommy Lasorda," Dodger president and CEO Stan Kasten said. "A tireless spokesman for baseball, his dedication to the sport and the team he loved was unmatched. He was a champion who at critical moments seemingly willed his teams to victory. The Dodgers and their fans will miss him terribly. Tommy is quite simply irreplaceable and unforgettable."

Lasorda retired as manager after suffering a heart attack in 1996, having won the World Series in 1981 and '88, plus four National League pennants and eight division titles. He was 3-1 as an All-Star manager. His 1,599 wins rank 22nd all time.

Baseball’s undisputed goodwill ambassador managed the U.S. Olympic baseball team to a gold medal in 2000. In 2009, his portrait was hung in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute. In 2008, he received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette from the emperor of Japan, just one of many heads of state Lasorda considered his friends.

Lasorda is one of only two managers in the history of baseball to win pennants in his first two years of managing, joining Gabby Street, who did so with the Cardinals in 1930 and '31. Lasorda managed nine National League Rookies of the Year, a Major League record. And he served as the official ambassador of the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and '09.

As a pitcher, he was known mostly for his fighting. He never could take that final step from Triple-A dominance into Major League success as a pitcher, compiling an 0-4 record in brief trials with the Dodgers and Kansas City A's.

Alston managed Lasorda at Triple-A Montreal and in Brooklyn and considered the lefty a better cheerleader than pitcher. When the Dodgers sent Lasorda back to Triple-A in 1955, it was to clear a roster spot for a newly signed bonus baby -- Koufax.

Lasorda, though, would go on to baseball fame and fortune that nobody could have predicted, not even him. It was mentor and then-scouting director Al Campanis who told Lasorda in 1960 that his playing days were over, cushioning the news by hiring him as a scout. When Campanis became general manager, he made Lasorda a Rookie League manager, first in Pocatello, Idaho, then Ogden, Utah.

It was there, and later at Triple-A Spokane, where Lasorda formed the bond with what would become the nucleus of the Dodgers of the 1970s -- Steve Garvey, Bobby Valentine, Bill Russell, Willie Crawford, Charlie Hough, Tom Paciorek, Bill Buckner, Tommy Hutton, Ron Cey and others.

Lasorda, who credited Ralph Houk as his managerial role model, polished his motivational skills teaching these raw talents how to play and win. He blazed the trail as a manager who became close with his players, and Joe Torre said it was Lasorda who brought the managerial hug into the game. Lasorda would socialize with his players, usually over dinner, yet still command their respect.

Lasorda was profane, sometimes profound, always entertaining. He was effective enough as a teacher that 75 players he managed in the Minor Leagues reached the Major Leagues.

Lasorda is survived by his wife, Jo; daughter, Laura, and granddaughter, Emily. Lasorda’s son, Tom Jr., died in 1991.