Tommy Lasorda, who claimed to “bleed Dodger blue” from the moment he entered the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1949 and decades later became the colorful and very successful manager of the transplanted Los Angeles Dodgers, winning two World Series titles, died Thursday night.
Lasorda was 93. The Dodgers announced that Lasorda suffered sudden cardiac arrest at his home and was rushed to the hospital. He was pronounced dead at 10:57.
“Words can not express my feelings,” former Mets manager Bobby Valentine tweeted. “A friend and mentor for 52 years is no longer with us. Tommy no one will ever fill the void you left. Thank you for everything. R.I.P.”
Lasorda had just been released from the hospital Tuesday after being admitted in mid-November for undisclosed reasons.
In October, he was at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, in his role as a special adviser to team chairman Mark Walter to see the Dodgers beat the Rays and win their first world championship since his 1988 team, highlighted by Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley, accomplished the feat.
In 20 seasons as their manager (1977-96), Lasorda led the Dodgers to two world championships (1981, 1988), four National League pennants and eight division titles.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 in his first year of eligibility and, at the time of his death, was the Hall’s oldest living member.
Not bad for a left-handed pitcher who appeared in just 26 big-league games over parts of three seasons with the Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics. Lasorda, who originally signed with his hometown Phillies, made three relief appearances for the Dodgers in 1954, and was sent to the minors when the Dodgers kept an 18-year-old lefty named Sandy Koufax instead.
“When [general manager] Buzzie [Bavasi] told me I was going down, I told him he was crazy,” Lasorda told MLB.com in 2005. “That guy couldn’t hit a barn door from 50 feet and I won 20 games [in the minors]. So truthfully I can say that it took the greatest left-hander in the history of the game to replace me.
“I still think they made a mistake.”
Lasorda made his lone start for Brooklyn the following season. He was removed following the first inning after throwing three wild pitches and being spiked on a play at home plate when St. Louis’ Wally Moon scored on that third wild pitch. Lasorda was sent to the minors, where he had a long career, soon after and never pitched for the Dodgers again.
Following his playing career — which also included a stop with the Yankees’ Triple-A team in Denver, where he came under the influence of Bears manager Ralph Houk — Lasorda became a scout for the Dodgers, then worked his way up through the minor league coaching ranks before being named the Dodgers’ third-base coach in 1973.
Following the 1976 season, Lasorda replaced Hall of Famer Walter Alston as Dodgers manager and quickly began carving his own path toward Cooperstown, winning pennants in his first two seasons when his teams fell to the Yankees in the World Series. During his tenure, he guided nine players to NL Rookie of the Year honors, among them Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Sax and Mike Piazza.
He also befriended presidents and scores of Hollywood stars — including Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, Milton Berle and Robert Wagner — and photos of his famous friends filled the walls of his Dodger Stadium office.
“I tell you, only in this great nation of ours could the third-string pitcher on the Norristown, Pennsylvania, high school team, the son of an Italian immigrant, be friends with some of the greatest entertainers in the world,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1984.
“I am the only general manager in baseball,” former Dodgers general manager Al Campanis once said, “who, when he wants to reach his manager, has to call either the Oval Office at the White House, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas or Lasorda’s restaurant in Exton, Pennsylvania.”
In between photo ops, Lasorda managed 3,038 major league games, winning 1,599. While he was known for his salty language at the ballpark, his wife, Jo, claimed neither she nor their children had ever heard that side of her husband. Lasorda’s off-color diatribe when a reporter asked what he thought of Dave Kingman after the Cubs slugger had hit three homers and driven in eight runs in a 1978 Dodgers loss remains a classic.
“What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance?,” Lasorda said. “What the [expletive] do you think my opinion is of it? I think it was [expletive]. Put that in. I don’t [expletive] care. What’s my opinion of his performance? [Expletive.] He beat us with three [expletive] home runs.
“What the [expletive] do you mean, what is my opinion of his performance? How can you ask me a question like that? I’m [expletive] off to lose a [expletive] game, and you ask me my opinion of his performance?”
Lasorda’s last game came on June 23, 1996, a 4-3 win over the Astros. The following day, he drove himself to the hospital, where he learned he was having a heart attack. He retired five weeks later.
Lasorda came out of retirement to manage the US national team to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, beating the heavily favored team from Cuba. He is the only man to manage a team to a World Series title and an Olympic gold medal.
Thomas Charles Lasorda was born Sept. 22, 1927, in Norristown, Pa., the second of five brothers born to Sabatino and Carmella Lasorda.
He was a boyhood friend of Vincent Piazza, the father of Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. Lasorda is godfather to Thomas Piazza, Mike’s younger brother, and it was Lasorda who lobbied for the Dodgers to take the unknown Mike Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, the 1,390th player selected.
Lasorda is survived by his wife of 70 years, Jo, a daughter, Laura, and a granddaughter. His son, Thomas Jr., died in 1991.
A tireless supporter of various charities, Lasorda spent many of his offseasons traveling from coast to coast raising money. While he commanded five-figure speaking fees from corporate clients, he said he “never took a dime” from churches or schools.
“I feel I owe the people something,” he once said. “I want to get out and spread the word about the Dodgers and baseball. … You might say it’s like putting something back in the pot. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”