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There will never be another

The thing I liked most about Tommy Lasorda is that he told me I wasn't crazy.
Here I was, this young baseball fan, barely a couple of years into following the game, not terribly confident about my knowledge of it, heck, not terribly confident about much in life at all. That's what it's like when you're 11, and small, and soft-spoken ... and everyone else is so LOUD.
I was rooting for a team whose home base was almost 3,000 miles away. "What are you doing rooting for THAT team?" If it wasn't spoken -- and I'm sure it was -- it was thought, by the legions of young Yankees fans surrounding me.
The Yankees were all anyone talked about when it came to baseball where I lived. They were about the only team I could watch on a regular basis on the TV and they were the subject of the biggest headlines in the newspaper every day. Kids wore Yankees baseball caps and the only yearbook sold in the drug store nearby was the Yankees yearbook. Why would anyone want any other yearbook?
So, I could have experienced a crisis of confidence. Why am I rooting for the Dodgers? Way out there. A team that kept losing to the Yankees. Who everyone adored.
But I didn't. Because Tommy Lasorda wouldn't let me. If I ever had one moment of doubt about my Dodger fandom, Lasorda killed it instantly. He was the biggest cheerleader for the Dodgers from the moment he was named to replace Walter Alston as manager. He left NO DOUBT that rooting for the Dodgers is what you should do. He actually said he bled Dodger blue! He called God the Great Dodger in the Sky! God was a Dodger fan, he said. And, oh by the way, he said, if you don't root for the Dodgers, you might not get to heaven.
Listen, I know a lot of people thought Lasorda was full of it for saying those things. (Roger Angell, my all-time favorite baseball writer, once went on a diatribe about how insincere the late '70s Dodgers were thanks to Lasorda's media filibusters). Some people hated Lasorda for it. They thought he was a phony. He was loud, as loud as those Yankee fans I complained about to myself.
But when you're alone and looking for a support system, and there is someone supporting your team THAT MUCH, you can't help but cling to him.
Lasorda and I didn't always see eye to eye. I complained about his management of pitchers all through his two decades of managing the Dodgers. I am convinced he lost the 1985 NLCS for the Dodgers. There were times when I wanted him fired.
But Lasorda also led the Dodgers to the first two World Series championships that I experienced as a fan of the team. You can't imagine how that feels for a person whose first two World Series viewing experiences were watching two victories for the Yankees.
Lasorda was fun. He was profane. He was fun while being profane. He was an overflowing kettle of invectives. The three videos and quotes I expected to see when I learned of his passing earlier today was Lasorda's expletive-filled rant about "Kingman's performance," the colorful conversation with Doug Rau on the mound during the 1977 World Series, and Lasorda beating up the Philly Phanatic. I wasn't disappointed. I saw all three within an hour.
Lasorda was good copy and someone in the newspaper business can appreciate that. He was also good copy for baseball cards.

 Tell me another manager who had as memorable cards as Lasorda. He has two of the most interesting manager cards of all-time, his 1988 Topps card in which he's seated in a golf cart and his 1992 Topps card in which he's leading his players on a Slim Fast run.
Lasorda's outsized personality was also fodder for those who like to poke fun. Who else appeared on two parody sets in the 1990s? That's what you get when you put yourself out there and Lasorda was OUT THERE.

This is the first Lasorda card that made it into my collection (not counting the 1977 Topps team card with his tiny inset photo).
It also features his playing picture and I'm pretty sure that was the first time I figured out that he used to be a player.
It's also the same (or very similar) player head shot used on his one and only playing days Topps card, a card that I will be lucky to ever own (this is the '94 Archives reprint).
And that tells you right there how big of a deal Lasorda was in baseball once his playing career was done. He's not a Hall of Famer for that 6.48 career ERA.
Lasorda's fiery speeches and silly spiels were so much a part of my younger rooting days. He was a legendary motivational fibber. I miss those inspirational talks, he hadn't been that animated in quite some years.
It makes me wish I had one of those 1989 Topps Talk players so I could hear him say whatever he's saying on this card.
Thanks to Tommy, I remained a Dodger fan and never wavered. Who knows what would have happened if he wasn't named Dodgers manager? "Have some pride in your team!!!!!" he said. And so I did.
This card is the last card of Lasorda that I looked at before I found out he had died. It was only an hour prior to the news. I have 88 different cards of Lasorda, which is an astonishing total for a manager. That's also all you need to know right there about the impact of the man (and, yes, that can be a fat joke if you want it to be).

Thanks, Tommy, for all those memories, and for dominating all those teams for so many years (among my favorite '80s baseball viewing memories were watching Braves-Dodgers games on TBS and listening to Skip Caray bemoan how much the Dodgers were beating them). It was entertaining and it was fun. That victory over the Yankees in 1981 may have been the greatest moment of my baseball rooting career. And his leap out of the dugout after Gibson's home run in '88? Joyous.
Yes, he forced you to take sides, and thank goodness, he was on my side.

So thanks for all that. Also, thanks for loving pasta so much. I did, too. I still do. So, if you didn't have me hooked with all that Dodger Blue stuff, you definitely had me hooked with all that spaghetti.


Nick said…
RIP to one of my all-time favorite baseball people. Tommy's got the best cards of any manager in history, and it's not even particularly close.
Brett Alan said…
A fitting tribute to a remarkable baseball life.
You mentioned SKip, he too was out there, way out there.
I always found him very entertaining and definitely one of my favorite managers of all time. I remember watching him on the "Baseball Bunch" with Johnny Bench in the early 80's. My favorite baseball books as a kid were "Temporary Insanity" and "Over The Edge" co-written by Jay Johnstone. What a fun read...he sure took a lot of grief.

Great've written a very nice tribute to him.
I was never a Dodgers fan, though I didn't dislike them either. But LaSorda was never too divisive for me, my memories of him are almost exclusively positive.

I too remember him on The Baseball Bunch. And by the time he took a flying bat in the all star game and tumbled hard, he had become one of those guys that you can't really hate.

A while back, regrets were being talked about on the blogs, and you said you didn't do regrets. Well I have another, though it isn't a life ender. I had a copy of Tommy's RC, but gave it away to a friend who is a big Dodgers fan. Hard to really regret it, but I wish I had it to send your way (and another one for gcrl!).
Heaven needed a manager for all those Hall of Famers.

Nice tribute, NO.
bryan was here said…
You featured my favourite Lasorda card, that'83 Topps where he's mic'ed up and telling off an umpire.

He was one of a kind. An earlier comment mentioned Jay Johnstone's books. The first thing that popped into my mind is that Jay was up there, waiting for Tommy to get there so he could tie his motel room door shut again.

And for his two World Series titles, that job he did managing a bunch of minor leaguers to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney will be a masterstroke of his career.
Old Cards said…
Watching a game in the 70's, Reds vs. Dodgers. Lasorda was coaching 3rd base and the broadcast crew had him wired. Rose gets to 3rd. Lasoda starts talking to Rose. Tells him the Dodgers voted for their favorite player on the Reds. Tells Rose that he finished 2nd..pause..and the other 25 players tied for first! He was entertaining.
Fuji said…
Whether or not you root for the Dodgers, yesterday was a sad day for baseball fans. Lasorda was the Dodgers biggest cheerleader during my formative years and the face of the franchise. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Mr. Lasorda

P.S. When I close my eyes, I can see that smile he has on his 1981 Fleer card.
gcrl said…
He's the standard against which I measure all other managers
John Bateman said…
His 1988 Topps card just looks amazing on your blog.
Anonymous said…
Even though I'm an Expos fan and "Blue Monday" is still a thing for me, I liked Lasorda because he always looked like he was having fun out there.
RunForeKelloggs said…
Great post. I might have that player in my attic. Cleaning that area is a spring break goal. Thanks for the entertaining links. The Kingman interview reminds me of Lee Elia's great interview. I always loved when he was coaching third base and they had a microphone on him.
acrackedbat said…
Wonderful tribute. Lasorda was a larger than life fellow. My first thought was 'glad the Boys won a Series title before he passed.'
Jafronius said…
Great post. I told my buddy Lasorda was one of the individuals responsible for me being a baseball fan. It helped that there was a lot of focus on him when the Dodgers visited Wrigley Field.
gregory said…
If someone were to ask me to name the first Dodger to come to mind, the answer would most likely be "Tom Lasorda". And I think it's been that way since I was a kid. Great tribute, Night Owl.
Old Cards said…
Correction on my story above. Obviously, it can't be Reds vs. Dodgers. It was an All-Star game.
Nick Vossbrink said…
FYI all the Baseball Talk cards are on YouTube. Tommy is here.

Also yeah, as a Giants fan I was obviously supposed to hate the Dodgers. But Tommy made that impossible. Oh we booed him. But he made it fun by taking that long slow walk from the clubhouse (right field corner) to the dugout (third base side) at Candlestick, blowing kisses to the fans and waving as the boos rained down. A reminder to not take the rivalry *that* seriously and that "Beat LA" was a better mantra than "Duck the Fodgers."

In 1988 I, as a Bay Area fan, went into the World Series rooting for the A's but something about watching Tommy run out of the dugout after Gibson's homer made me switch allegiances. Tommy was fun. Tony was not. Give me fun any day. We could use a lot more fun in today's MLB and it's always sad day when one of the bes cheerleaders for the sport passes.
Jason T. Carter said…
Nick beat me to the punch. YouTube is a treasure trove of lost audio oddities.

Great tribute to one of the greatest managers in baseball history.

JT, The Writer's Journey
Matt said…
They don't make managers like him anymore! Nice tribute post, not often a fan of a team points to a manager and not a player for their loyalty.
Adam Kaningher said…
My favorite rant of his is the one about Kurt Bevacqua.

RIP Tommy.

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