Tommy Lasorda, the colorful, quotable and revered Los Angeles Dodgers legend who managed the team to two World Series title and four National League pennants in the 1970s and ’80s, died today at 93. The Dodgers announced that the Hall of Famer “suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home” on Thursday night.
Lasorda had been sent home this week after being hospitalized for seven weeks in Orange County, spending much of that time in intensive care.
MLB 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.”
Born on September 22, 1927, Norristown, PA, to Italian immigrant parents, Lasorda signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945, and three years later joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, who drafted him from the Phillies. He debuted for the Dodgers in 1954, pitching in four games that season and another four the following season, and 18 games for the Kansas City A’s in 1956.
Lasorda, who famously said he “bled Dodger Blue”, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. He had spent more than 70 years in the Dodgers’ organization, managing the team from 1976-96 after a decidedly unspectacular pitching career. His teams won 1,599 games, were World Series champs in 1981 and 1988 and two more National League pennants in 1977 and ’78 — Lasorda’s first two season as manager — before losing both of those World Series to the New York Yankees.
Before taking over for Walter Alston as Dodgers skipper for the 1977 season, Lasorda had served as the Dodgers’ third base coach since 1973. During those years, the team won the 1974 NL pennant and finished second in the NL West behind the rival Cincinnati Reds Those “Big Red Machine” teams led by Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and others, those Reds won the 1975 and ’76 World Series.
A fiery manager known to toss around a few expletives to rally his team, Lasorda became a familiar face on television and in films during in the late 1970s and ‘80s. His wide popularity in Los Angeles and around the country led to numerous acting jobs, including guest shots as himself in episodes of such popular shows as Fantasy Island, Silver Spoons, Simon & Simon, Arli$$ and the L.A.-set light dramas CHiPs and Hart to Hart.
He also had a memorable cameo as himself in the Airplane!-fueled 1982 Leslie Nielsen comedy Police Squad! A uniformed Lasorda sits for a shoeshine with Johnny, who always knows more than lets on. When the then-Dodgers manager asks Johnny, “Do you think I need another starter?” the man replies “How should I know?” After Lasorda produces some cash, the guy opens up. “The rigors of a full season on a four-man rotation are just too demanding. You need a left-handed swingman to fill your long-relief spot.” Lasorda spits, then hears him out. “Give him an occasional start, and he’ll round out your staff nicely,” Johnny advises. The shoeshiner/tipster was a running gag throughout the short-lived CBS series.
He also appeared in small roles on the big screen, including Americathon (1980), Ladybugs (1992) and a voice role in Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996).
Lasorda was a regular guest on the talk-show circuit as well, appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and myriad network morning programs, to name a few. He also appeared as a commentator in numerous sports documentaries over the decades.
After having a heart attack in July 1996, the two-time NL Manager of the Year retired the following month. Lasorda stayed with the Dodgers as a special adviser to the chairman.
In retirement, he coached the U.S. national team to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. He was also a pitcher for the Dodgers, dating to their Brooklyn days.
Still a regular at Dodger Stadium, Lasorda attended Game 6 of the 2020 World Series and watched Los Angeles clinch its first championship since the team’s 1988 win under his leadership. Until recently he traveled regularly, speaking to groups about baseball, the Dodgers and his career.
In 1978, Lasorda fired off one of the most memorable tirades in Los Angeles sports history. After the Dodgers lost a home game to the Chicago Cubs, which included three home runs by Cubs slugger Dave Kingman, radio reporter Paul Olden asked the skipper, “What’s your opinion of Kingman’s performance?” Lasorda then launched into Lasorda Mode:
“What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance? What the f*ck do you think my opinion is of it? I think it was f*cking horsesh*t. Put that in. I don’t f*cking care. What’s my opinion of his performance? He f*cking beat us with three f*cking home runs. What the f*ck do you mean, ‘What is my opinion of his performance?’ How can you ask me a question like that — what is my opinion of his performance? Sh*t, he hit three home runs. Sh*t. I’m f*cking pissed off to lose a f*cking game, and you ask me my opinion of his performance? I mean that’s a tough question to ask me, isn’t it? ‘What is my opinion of his performance?’”
The edited clip became permanently embedded in L.A. sports lore as regular bit on Jim Healy’s popular KABC drivetime radio show.
Another famous Lasorda tirade came in 1982, when San Diego Padres journeyman Kurt Bevacqua said the manager should be disciplined after Dodgers pitcher Tom Niedenfuer hit a Padres player with the first pitch after serving up a home run ball. Bevacqua was quoted as saying “They ought to fine that fat little Italian, too. He ordered it.”
An enraged Lasorda famously responded in the press with:
Tell you what I think about it. I think that is very, very bad for that man to make an accusation like that. That is terrible. I have never ever since I’ve managed ever told a pitcher to throw at anybody, nor will I ever. And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn’t make him throw at a f*cking .130 hitter like [Joe] Lefebvre or f*cking Bevacqua, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a f*cking boat. And I guar-an-f*cking-tee you this, when I pitched, and I was going to pitch against a f*cking team that had guys on it like Bevacqua, I’d send a f*cking limousine to get [him] to make sure he was in the motherf*cking lineup because I’d kick that [guy’s] ass any f*cking day of the week.”
Healy made that a regular clip on his show as well.
His charming smile, openness and often-faux gruffness led many in the local and national media to revere Lasorda. Among the many legendary/infamous press box stories were his occasional habit of doing his postgame gaggle with reporters while naked or sporting only chonies.
Bruce Haring contributed to this report.
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