Baseball legend Tommy Lasorda on beating the odds, getting bleeped and the biggest moment of his career.Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda has lost not one iota of feistiness since the days he played and managed a game which, to this day, remains a driving force in his life. The 84-year-old’s love of baseball and unbridled opinions on the sport have made him a polarizing figure whom people either love or love to hate. This season marks Lasorda’s 63rd campaign with the Dodgers, 20 of which he spent as a manager and the last eight of which he’s been the organization’s special adviser to the chairman, i.e., an ambassador. With baseball getting back into full swing, American Way caught up with the in-demand and indefatigable Lasorda at his office at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
American Way: You were famous for your colorful personality on the field. Do you ever look back and get a kick out of your famous rants, like your tirade over Dave Kingman’s three-homer game against you in 1976?
Tommy Lasorda: I’ve been married [nearly 62] years, and I’ve never used one word of profanity to my wife, my daughter or my granddaughter, never in front of my mother or my father — but on the field I was bad, and I know that. I didn’t think they’d play [the Dave Kingman tirade on TV], but they played it, and they played it for years. My mother heard it. She was in the hospital at the time, and she just heard bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep. She said, “I didn’t hear you say any bad words.”
AW: What memories do you have of the World Series you managed against the New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978?
TL: We brought the nation together. From the East to the West and everything in the middle, everyone was watching because it was the Yankees and Dodgers. We got beat both times, but we should never have lost those games. When I used to go to bed, I’d say my prayers and say, “Dear God, let us play the Yankees again.” I wanted them so bad. And then in ’81 [Lasorda’s first World Series win as a manager], we got them.
AW: You know a lot of celebrities. Did they ever try to give you advice?
TL: One day we got beat by San Diego and Frank [Sinatra] was so mad, he chewed me out. I said, “Settle down, Frank, you ain’t the general manager.” He said, “How did you let that guy beat you?!”
AW: What’s the single most important change in baseball over the last 40 years?
TL: Pitch count. Brutal. Whoever started that made the biggest mistake of his life. How the [heck] are you going to become a pitcher if you aren’t going to throw?
AW: You came out of retirement to coach the U.S. Olympic baseball team in Sydney in 2000 and won the Gold Medal. What can you say about the experience?
TL: My wife asked me, “Why do you want to go over there? Look at your age.” I said, “I don’t care how old I am. We’re going to get those guys a win. There’s going to be a question in a quiz 25 years from now: ‘Who was the only guy to help his team win a World Series and turn around and help his team win the Olympics?’ ” I said, “It’s going to be me.”
When we won, that was the biggest moment of my baseball life. When I told people that it was bigger than the World Series, it sounded like I was crazy. I said, “When we win the championship with the Dodgers, are the Giants fans happy? Are the Padres fans happy?” You win an Olympics and the whole country is happy.
AW: You’re a Hall of Famer, you’ve had your Dodgers uniform retired, and you’ve had a street named after you. How does it feel to receive such honors?
TL: When I was about 14 years old, I used to dream that I was pitching for the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. I could see Bill Dickey giving me the signs, and I looked over and I saw [Lou] Gehrig at first, Tony Lazzeri at second, [Frankie] Crosetti at short, Red Rolfe at third. It was so real. Then all of a sudden, I’d feel my mother shaking me, saying, “Wake up, Tommy, it’s time to go to school.”
Then one day I’m warming up in the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, and when I got to the mound, I pinched myself. Everything I do and accomplish, I never thought would happen.