Tommy Lasorda was baseball’s goodwill ambassador, a man full of passion for his team, stories for his visitors and an appreciation for the game.
He was a modern day combination of Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra, blessed with good humor and a gift for gab. And boy, did he love the Dodgers, a team he managed for all or parts of 21 years, winning four pennants and two World Series.
Lasorda was an entertainer, embraced by entertainers. His office at Dodger Stadium was a revolving door for Hollywood types. Visit him there and you might bump into Frank Sinatra coming out or Don Rickles going in. Maybe Walter Matthau or Larry King would drop in. They were his pals, always welcome to hang out and swap a few laughs.
Lasorda was a throwback, a larger than life personality who would have had trouble fitting into the buttoned-down version of New Age Baseball that masquerades as the Grand Old Game. He came from a time when the game was flat out fun instead of one measured by analytics. If he had a pitcher who threw 90 miles per hour, the spin rate wouldn’t have mattered. If he had a hitter with long ball power, the launch angle would have been irrelevant.
And the stories. Oh, could he tell stories. One time, during spring training, the Dodgers were in Miami to play the Baltimore Orioles. Lasorda was conducting an audience in the Dodgers dugout, surrounded by maybe a dozen baseball writers.
Passing by was Derrel Thomas, a journeyman infielder who found himself on the Dodgers roster that spring. He glanced at the gang of writers surrounding Lasorda and chuckled. “Get your boots on, boys,’’ he said. “It’s going to get pretty deep over there.’’
Lasorda delighted in confiding to writers that when the Dodgers needed a roster spot for a young left-handed pitcher in 1955, he was the pitcher they dropped. And that’s how Sandy Koufax reached the major leagues. Of course the demotion was understandable. He started one game that season, and threw three wild pitches in the one inning he lasted.
Lasorda struggled with his weight throughout his life, always touting one diet or another. Ultra SlimFast, a diet drink, hired him as spokesman for a while and he dropped some weight. But, eventually, he gained the pounds back because of his affection for Italian food.
He once explained his approach to eating this way:
“When we win a game, I eat to celebrate. When we lose, I eat to forget.’’