Tommy LaSorda didn’t win a single game as a big league pitcher; he did win 1,599 games as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He led his team to eight division titles, four pennants and two World Series championships in his 20 years as skipper.
Fans know him for bleeding Dodger blue, his rah-rah style, those never-ending arguments with umpires, occasional profane rants, and a love for pasta dishes and his Italian roots.
He can talk about anything. (“Tommy, do you believe in free speech? Good, because you’re going to give one.”) Columnist Bill Plaschke writes that a good Lasorda listener is someone “who nods a lot, period.”
The son of Italian immigrants Sabatinno and Carmella Lasorda is so patriotic that he has a huge American flag mounted on the driver’s side of his Cadillac and a Teddy Bear in his office that sings “God Bless America” if you press its belly. (The second Teddy Bear in his office wears an Uncle Sam hat.)
He served in the Army and likes to be the toughest guy in the room. Self-confidence? During his playing days, LaSorda recommended to Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi that the team cut loose a different lefty … Sandy Koufax. Koufax became a Hall of Fame pitcher, of course. LaSorda went 0-4 in the Majors. Tommy probably still thinks he was right, though.
He palled with Frank Sinatra and still hangs out with Don Rickles. During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 1997, he singled out buddy Tony Danza of Taxi fame as one of America’s greatest actors. (I heard it with my own two ears.)
In his 1985 autobiography The Artful Dodger, LaSorda acknowledges 544 of his closest friends. In his 2007 follow-up, I Live for This, he calls managing the 2000 Olympic baseball team to a Gold Medal his greatest managerial thrill. LaSorda, who retired as Dodgers manager following a heart attack in the 1996 season, works for the club now as Special Adviser to Chairman Mark Walter. He has 66 years of continuous service with the team, one more year than broadcaster Vin Scully.
Tommy LaSorda’s Trattoria opened in April at Dodger Stadium. He remains one of the game’s biggest fans and Dodger cheerleaders. The camera occasionally pans in LaSorda’s direction at home games. You can see Tommy, sometimes sharing a story with a friend, sometimes snoozing. He is, some say, the Dodgers’ living, breathing mascot. Happy birthday, Tommy.