I have to share with you two of my favorite and most enduring memories of Tommy Lasorda, who passed last week. In earlier posts, I have written about my Walter Mitty life growing up in L.A. as a kid working for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Tommy was the Dodger’s third-base coach and later manager when I worked for one of baseball’s most legendary teams. He was loud, entertaining, larger than life, and was a master and very good at his craft, which would eventually land him in Cooperstown, home of baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Tommy was always ready, able, and willing to put on a good show in The Show.
1) The Benedict Arnold Show
I had just left the Dodgers during mid-summer of my gap year. Taking a gap year was not very common back then. USC wasn’t exactly kicking down my door with a baseball scholarship nor were there any million-dollar bonuses being thrown at me to sign a professional baseball contract.
A big signing bonus for a top draft pick back then was around $100k, about $500k in 2020 dollars. For some context, one of my daughter’s classmates was the number three pick in the nation in the 2019 baseball draft and nailed down a $7.2 million signing bonus with the Chicago White Sox. Inflation or change in relative price for baseball talent? You decide.
So why not take a year off and hang with the Dodgers, catching Tommy John in the bullpen during his comeback year, throwing batting practice, and performing my other duties in the clubhouse? It was being in Show without the pressure of playing in the Show. Just a teenager living the life that most kids could only dream of.
During the prior off-season, Andy Messersmith, the great Dodger pitcher who was like a big brother to me, won his arbitration case challenging MLB’s reserve clause, which shattered the monopsony teams had over players. Now free from what some called a form of slavery, players were able to auction their services in the open market to the highest bidder.
It was the start of the big, big money multi-year contract for MLB players.
Ted Turner, the young swashbuckling and budding media mogul and new owner of the Atlanta Braves, jumped on Messersmith and signed him to a multi-million, multi-year contract. The Dodgers and Braves also made a blockbuster trade during that offseason that sent many of my close friends and adopted big brothers to Atlanta.
When Messersmith and the boys heard I had left the Dodgers they got on the phone and convinced me to come work with Braves for the rest of the season and to meet them in San Diego on their West Coast tour.
When we came up to Dodger Stadium for a three-game series, it felt strange suiting up in a Braves uniform. My good friend and Dodger batboy — nicknamed Possum, and he still looks and drinks like one — met me as I came out of the visitor’s dugout.
We walked across the field together when out from the Dodger dugout shot Tommy Lasorda, running at full speed toward us. I will never forget the sight of him waving his arms and shouting at the top of his lungs for all to hear,
“Benedict Arnold, Benedict Arnold, you are a f__kig Benedict Arnold. Get the ____ out of our house.”
It was hilarious. All the players on both teams had a good laugh, including yours truly, as Tommy put on another Oscar-worthy performance.
I knew that was his schtick. Tommy putting on his show in The Show.
2) Watching Tommy Dress Down An Arrogant Rookie
A couple years earlier, the Dodgers had called up a young and promising left-hand hitting rookie during mid-season, who had some early success and became an instant favorite with Dodger fans. I was working as the batboy one night while he was on deck when then Dodger manager, Walter Alston, called him back into the dugout for a pinch hitter.
Angry with Alston’s decision, the rookie made the mistake of showing up the Dodger skipper by throwing his bat and helmet down in the on-deck circle in front of 50k fans. Alston rarely showed emotion and didn’t after the incident.
When the inning was over I ran up into the clubhouse to get something out of my locker and the rook was in there changing his clothes. Just him and I, alone in the clubhouse.
All of a sudden, Tommy Lasorda storms in screaming at the kid,
You mother f__ker, don’t you ever show up your manager like that again. Never, ever! You ain’t shit. You can’t hit yourself out of your underwear, much less major league hitting. You sock sucker. If you ever do that again I will rip your head off and crap down your throat.”
‘Nuff said, I think the rookie got the message and learned to respect his managers.
I never heard a dressing down like that again until my first job on Wall Street, working for the Human Piranha (HP) of Michael Lewis’ first book, Liar Pokers.
The Human Piranha was the best boss I ever worked for. Even though I was shelled by some of his tirades it didn’t bother me, however, I learned from Lasorda, it was just part of his schtick. He, like Lasorda, practiced his craft well and taught me how to trade.
The Piranha even wrote a novel, Wall and Mean. based on the bond trading desk I ran for him.
1988 World Series Champions
Tommy knew how to manage and cultivate young players into major league stars. He managed the longest-running and one of the most famous infields of all-time, Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey, as young minor leaguers and throughout much of their major league careers.
I saw him that night beating a false arrogance out a young player, which have killed many a good ball player’s careers. It wasn’t personal, he did it to make the rookie a better player.
Tommy could also instill confidence in players with, at best, mediocre talent, making them believe in themselves. He would, for example, take a career .250 hitter and convince him he was the second coming of Babe Ruth.
Nowhere was it more evident than during the 1988 season, when Tommy led the Dodgers to the World Championship.
Sure that team had Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershisher but no way in hell they should have won the World Series. A third-place team at best yet Lasorda convinced them they were better than the 1927 Yankees, and they played like it.
Rest in peace, Tommy Lasorda.
I am honored to have known you. Baseball and the world will miss you.
1:31 minutes In To View/Hear The Real Tommy (Warning: Strong Language)