Tommy Lasorda, who for more than two decades managed the Los Angeles Dodgers and for twice that long lent his simmering, feisty, in-your-face temperament to the iconic franchise, died Thursday night. He was 93.
The team announced that he “suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home.”
His death came less than three months after the Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays for their first World Series championship in 32 years. Lasorda attended the deciding Game 6 in Arlington, Texas. He had been hospitalized and placed in intensive care in November, and returned home Tuesday.
In a loud rasp and with a sparkle in his eyes, Lasorda regularly declared that his blood ran blue for the Dodgers and challenged anyone to disprove it.
After a brief major-league career as a left-handed pitcher, then as a minor-league manager, scout and big-league third-base coach, Lasorda replaced the legendary Walter Alston as Dodgers manager in 1976.
Over the next 21 years, he feted celebrities, appeared on television shows, bickered with umpires and won baseball games. When a heart attack ended his managing career midway through the 1996 season, Lasorda had won 1,599 games for the Dodgers, along with four National League pennants and two World Series titles. He was twice the NL's manager of the year, and in 1997 was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Dodgers retired his No. 2.
In a run that spoke to the stability of the organization under the ownership of the O'Malley family, the Dodgers had two managers from 1954 to 1996 — Alston and Lasorda.
In Los Angeles, he was always just Tommy, an uncle figure who liked to eat and laugh and, when it came time for baseball, wouldn't give an inch. He was properly despised in many other ballparks, especially in San Francisco, where he would walk the foul line at Candlestick Park blowing kisses into the gales of boos.
In a moment that perfectly captured the tough kid from Norristown, Pennsylvania, who'd grown up to become the tough man who led the Dodgers, Lasorda gathered his club following its Game 5 win against the Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series. Champagne plastered his hair and soaked his uniform.
"Hold it!" he shouted into the celebration, standing on a chair and raising his arms to claim the room. "Nobody thought we could win the division! Nobody thought we could beat the mighty Mets! Nobody thought we could beat the team that won 104 games!"
At that he balled his fists and thrust them to the ceiling.
"We believed it!" he cried before he was lost in more spray, and as his players — Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser, Mike Scioscia among them — whooped and carried on.
That was Lasorda. Blustery. Contentious. Spirited. Occasionally profane. He'd come from an era when a manager was judged by not only his wins and losses, but how hard his team played, and how much he could pry from the roster. So he sometimes burned through pitchers and often challenged his players for more. He valued loyalty above almost all else, and when he asked they would, somewhat bemused, admit to bleeding the blue as well.
He spent the past 20 years serving Peter O'Malley and then the three owners who succeeded the O'Malleys, briefly as a general manager, primarily as vice president and as an ambassador to the organization and the game. He managed Team USA to an Olympic gold medal in 2000.
Even as his body slowly failed him — he'd been hospitalized with various ailments in recent years — Lasorda still was a regular at Dodger Stadium, in his seat a few steps from the Dodgers' dugout. Fans called his name as he walked the concourses of the ballpark. He'd often smile and wave. Until recently he traveled regularly, speaking to groups about baseball, the Dodgers and his career.
Lasorda was born in 1927 to Sabatino and Carmella Lasorda, Italian immigrants who had settled in Norristown. Tommy was the second of five sons. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945. Three years later the Brooklyn Dodgers drafted him from the Phillies. A longtime minor leaguer, Lasorda debuted for the Dodgers in 1954. He pitched in four games that season, another four the following season, and in 18 games for the Kansas City A's in 1956. Lasorda liked to say he'd have pitched more in the major leagues except the Dodgers were committed at the time to another left-hander, that being Sandy Koufax. Sometimes it was hard to tell if Lasorda was joking. When he retired, Lasorda had thrown 58 ⅓ major league innings and more than 2,100 minor-league innings.
Tommy and his wife, Jo, were married for 70 years. They bought a house in Fullerton more than 50 years ago and never left it. They had two children: a son, Tommy Jr., whom most called Spunky, and a daughter, Laura. Spunky died in 1991.
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