Bleeding Dodger blue came almost naturally to Tommy Lasorda. For more than a half-century, he never needed a transfusion.
After 1957, when Lasorda divided his season between the Triple-A affiliates of the Yankees and Dodgers, he remained employed by just one organization: the Los Angeles Dodgers. Solid teams tended to follow Lasorda around when he managed; the Dodgers exceeded 90 victories in seven of his 17 full seasons.
Here’s a look at Lasorda’s 10 most memorable moments or events during his long baseball career:
1. Exceeding expectations
The Dodgers made the so-called experts look ridiculous by winning the World Series despite fielding a team almost totally devoid of stars. The only performer who fit that description was right-hander Orel Hershiser, who set a record by pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings. Nobody but Kirk Gibson and Mike Marshall hit 20 or more homers, and the lineup was devoid of .300 hitters. But Lasorda doused inspiration upon the Dodgers, who upset the Mets in the National League Championship Series before they stunned Oakland in five games in the World Series, which featured Gibson's epic walk-off home run in Game 1.
2. Gambling and winning
Oct. 23, 1981
Lasorda’s faith in his starting pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela, was rewarded with a 5-4 victory in Game 3 of the World Series that altered momentum dramatically. Since New York led the Series, 2-0, a Yankees victory in this game likely would have been too much for Los Angeles to overcome. Trailing by a run, the Yankees appeared poised to strike when Aurelio Rodriguez and Larry Milbourne singled to open the eighth inning. Lasorda stuck with Valenzuela, a decision he would have struggled to defend if the Dodgers lost. But Valenzuela coaxed a double play that doused the rally and propelled him to a 1-2-3 ninth. That was the first of three consecutive one-run triumphs for the Dodgers, who also won Game 6, 9-2, and the Series with it.
3. Instant success
Lasorda became the first National League manager to win pennants in each of his first two full seasons. The Dodgers put the brakes on the Big Red Machine in 1977, finishing 98-64 and defeating second-place Cincinnati by 10 games in the NL West standings. Lasorda proceeded to lead Los Angeles past Philadelphia in a four-game NLCS. The division race was closer in 1978, as the Dodgers edged the Reds by 2 ½ games. Los Angeles then outlasted the Phillies in another four-game NLCS.
4. An Olympian effort
2000 Summer Games
Managing a team composed almost entirely of Minor Leaguers, Lasorda came out of retirement to steer Team USA to the gold medal in the Summer Olympics. The Americans topped heavily favored Cuba in the final, 4-0, with Ben Sheets pitching a complete-game three-hitter. “I got them to believe in themselves, that’s what I usually do,” Lasorda told MLB.com. “I try to get everybody to pull the same way, everybody pulling for the USA. And we pulled it off, didn’t we?”
5. All-Star pratfall
July 10, 2001
Just as he did in the Olympics, Lasorda temporarily left retirement to coach third base for the NL in the 2001 All-Star Game in Seattle. Montreal’s Vladimir Guerrero took a swing and broke his bat. It flew toward Lasorda, who fell over backward in an effort to evade the projectile. Not only was Lasorda unharmed, but he also gave everybody a big laugh. Giants slugger Barry Bonds jokingly offered Lasorda a catcher’s chest protector to wear in the coaching box.
6. Quick call to the Hall
A year after managing his final game for the Dodgers, Lasorda entered baseball’s Hall of Fame on a vote by the Veterans Committee in 1997, his first year of eligibility. The Dodgers retired his jersey No. 2 on Aug. 15 of that year. His teams posted a 1,599-1,439 record in the regular season, a .526 winning percentage.
7. Distinguished disciples
Lasorda had a knack for nurturing talent. He managed nine NL Rookie of the Year Award winners spanning two separate stretches. First there were four straight, from 1979-82: Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe, left-handers Steve Howe and Valenzuela and second baseman Steve Sax. Then came five in a row from 1992-96, starting with first baseman Eric Karros, catcher Mike Piazza, outfielder Raúl Mondesi and right-hander Hideo Nomo. Lasorda retired during the 1996 season, when Dodgers outfielder Todd Hollandsworth was named the league’s top rookie.
8. Waiting for Lefty
Lasorda showed some promise as a left-handed starter in the Dodgers’ system. He compiled a 66-30 record for Triple-A Montreal from 1950-54. Lasorda made four appearances in the Majors for Brooklyn in 1955. But he returned to Montreal after the Dodgers signed a bonus baby who, under terms of his contract, had to remain on the big league roster. His name was Sandy Koufax. Lasorda resurfaced in the Majors with Kansas City in 1956 and went 0-4 with a 6.15 ERA in 18 outings (five starts).
9. Ol’ Dodger Blue Eyes
Lasorda’s famous friendship with the incomparable singer Frank Sinatra began in 1976, when they were introduced by a mutual friend, comedian Pat Henry. Sinatra sang the national anthem before Lasorda’s first Opening Day as the Dodgers’ manager, a 5-1 victory over San Francisco on April 7, 1977.
10. For Mature Audiences
Lasorda occasionally lost his temper during interview sessions with reporters. Yes, he could be vulgar. But many fans regard his X-rated outbursts as hilarious, due to the sheer excess of profanity. Because reporters often tape-record everything a manager says, many of Lasorda’s rants are easily accessible. One tirade occurred after the Cubs' Dave Kingman belted three homers at Los Angeles on May 14, 1978. A war of words erupted between Lasorda and San Diego’s Kurt Bevacqua after Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer yielded a home run and beaned the next batter, Joe Lefebvre, in a June 30, 1982 game.