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.