I’ll never forget Tommy Lasorda. For baseball fans growing up in the 80s, he is a mythical figure and one of the dominant personalities of the game.
Lasorda’s passion, unquestionable leadership and winning culture helped shape my early perceptions of a baseball manager. He was undersized but gritty, knowledgeable, and very passionate about playing the game the right way.
You can definitely consider the baseball lifer — who died at age 93 — a supreme character of the game. For two decades (1977-96) he was the face of the franchise, compiling a 1,599-1,439 record and touching the lives of thousands more. That win total still ranks 22nd all-time.
Before he became an iconic skipper in LA, Lasorda played in MLB for the Dodgers in 1954 and 1955, and for the Kansas City Athletics in 1956.
According to ESPN, Lasorda attended the Dodgers’ Game 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Oct. 27 in Texas that clinched this latest World Series.
“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,” commissioner Rob Manfred said.
Lasorda stayed close to home and served as special adviser to team owner and chairman Mark Walter for the last 14 years and maintained a frequent presence at games sitting in Walter’s box.
“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,” Walter said. “He will be dearly missed.”
Who can forget 1988 when Lasorda, an ace having a historic season in Orel Hershiser and a gimpy knee, ex-football player from Michigan State named Kirk Gibson accomplished the impossible?
First, they knocked the loaded New York Mets out of the playoffs. Gibson’s Game 4, 12th-inning bomb basically stole the Mets’ heart and followed light-hitting catcher Mike Scioscia’s improbable blast off Mets ace Dwight Gooden, to tie the game in the ninth.
That Game 4 comeback win crippled the Mets who lost the series in 6.
Then, the Dodgers faced the Oakland A’s as tremendous underdogs, but Kirk Gibson set the tone in Game 1, by limping off the bench to wrist an inconceivable pinch-hit walk-off home run against A’s dominant closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1.
The Dodgers would eliminate the juggernaut A’s in 5 games and Lasorda was immortalized as one of the all-time effective managers.
Oakland would go on to participate in back-to-back World Series in ‘89 and ‘90, capturing the title with a star-studded cast (Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson) and thick with productive vets like HOFer Harold Baines, Willie Randolph and Dave Henderson.
Lasorda’s shining WS moment was just the beginning of his influential reach. He’s also credited with “finding” and “developing” HOF catcher Mike Piazza, taking a chance on the unheralded player in the Draft.
Lasorda’s commitment and contributions to Youth Baseball across America must also be mentioned.
The sport had a true advocate in Lasorda and his presence and voice, genuine concern, knowledge and approachability will be missed in those circles as well.