Prior to the 1988 season, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda made a bold prediction. He told the world that Dodger fans would be dancing in the streets of Los Angeles come October. And while such predictions are commonplace in all professional sports, Lasorda held true to his word as the Dodgers did, in fact, dance in the streets in front of City Hall after a parade celebrating their 1988 World Series victory over the highly favored Oakland Athletics.
Although bold predictions like Lasorda’s are generally nothing more that hype and hoopla to generate fan support or to pump up their respective teams, the truth of the matter is that they rarely come true; but when they do, it puts those making these long shot predictions into a rare almost prophetic realm – guys like Babe Ruth calling his home run shot or New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl win over the highly favored Baltimore Colts. In fact, it is safe to say that for every Lasorda or Ruth or Namath-type prediction that comes true, there are dozens (or more) that do not which, of course, never make the headlines.
At last Saturday’s FanFest at Dodger Stadium in front of over 15,000 fans Lasorda had this to say:
“I think we have a ball club that can really play and execute the game of baseball and bring to you fans… you, each and every one of you, you deserve a World Championship.”
…and he was just warming up.
“It’s been too long,” Lasorda added, now considerably louder. “The last time we won a World Championship you were all youngsters… some of you weren’t even born.”
…and then he really let it fly.
“But we’re gonna do it this year!” Lasorda continued, now yelling. “You got to believe it! You got to believe it! Show me! Show me that you believe!”
…and the crowd went wild.
How does this man, this 86-year-old man who had to be all but dragged off of the FanFest stage screaming that he wasn’t finished yet and was “…just getting started” do it? How does he do what he has been doing with the Dodgers organization for 60 years?
The answer is simple – because he is Tommy Lasorda.
Born September 22, 1927 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Lasorda has had such an impact on the Dodgers, on the city of Los Angeles and on the game itself that he has streets named after him, has a brand of wine in his name and has a menu item called the ‘Tommy Lasorda Special’ at Paul’s Kitchen – a small, family-owned, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant (with great food) that has been in downtown Los Angeles since 1946. And beginning on opening day 2014, he will have a brand new concession stand in his name just beyond the Right Field Pavilion called ‘Tommy Lasorda’s Italian Grill.’ Oh, and by the way, Lasorda also happens to have two World Series rings (including that one from 1988), was enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on August 3, 1997 and led Team USA to an Olympic Gold Medal in 2000 in (get this) Sydney, Australia.
While some may consider Lasorda nothing more that some old has-been that the team keeps around just for show and PR, the truth of the matter is that he means a great deal to not only Dodger fans but to the Dodger players themselves.
In addition to being the consummate motivator, each year at spring training Lasorda addresses the entire team and explains to them that regardless of how good they are or how much money they make, there wouldn’t even be a Dodgers team if it weren’t for the fans, and that it is their obligation and duty to treat their fans with respect and to sign autographs for them at every given opportunity. And while there are many players who don’t particularly care to sign autographs and some who even loath it, Lasorda is absolutely not one of them. In fact, prior to almost every home spring training game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, a special table is set up for Lasorda where he often signs autographs for an hour or more – this in addition to signing for people wherever else he happens to be. (A word of caution: If Lasorda signs an autograph for you, do not, I repeat, do not walk away without thanking him. If you do, you will get an earful of the likes you have never heard before – and rightfully so).
In addition to his spring training autograph signing, Lasorda can frequently be found on the backfields of Camelback Ranch working with the Dodgers minor leaguers. Here again, while some may merely show token appreciation to the Dodger legend, the smarter ones absorb everything that Lasorda has to say to them – profanities notwithstanding.
Much has been said and written about the Hall of Fame manager over the years and there is no way that this simple blog article can do him justice, but like him or not, or get behind his enthusiasm or don’t, there is no denying that the Dodgers and Dodger fans are blessed to have Tommy Lasorda on their team.
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I Live for This!: Baseball’s Last True Believer – by Bill Plaschke
The Artful Dodger – by Tommy Lasorda and David Fisher