Tommy Lasorda was a great baseball showman, the kind of larger-than-life personality that the national pastime sorely misses these days.
The longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager, who died Jan. 7 at the age of 93, had an earthy charisma that allowed him to transcend the game. He was equal parts cheerleader and strategist, and always carried himself with a swagger.
“Nobody has to tell Frank Sinatra he is a good singer, and nobody has to tell me that I am a good manager,” Lasorda once proclaimed.
During his 1976-96 run as manager, the Norristown, Pa., native led the Dodgers to two World Series wins (1981 and 1988) and two National League pennants (1977 and 1978).
In his prime, Lasorda was a staple of pop culture, making him a perfect match for Hollywood’s hometown ball club. The garrulous Dodgers skipper was all over the TV as a prolific pitchman for such brands as Budweiser, SlimFast diet drinks and even Commodore’s Amiga personal computer. He was a regular on the talk show circuit. He logged a slew of primetime guest shots on everything from “Fantasy Island” and “ChiPs” to “Wrestlemania” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Lasorda stayed in the headlines for his quips, his occasional expletive-laden tirades and his on- and off-field antics. Those included his running battles with other teams’ costumed mascots (he famously went after the Phillie Phanatic during a 1988 game). He certainly wasn’t shy about arguing with umpires.
Lasorda was savvy about staging big moments on the diamond. He loved to tell the tale of how he kept secret the call to have slugger Kirk Gibson pinch-hit in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland A’s.
Gibson had been benched with leg injuries from the National League Championship Series and wasn’t expected to play that night. Vin Scully even said so from the broadcast booth. But when the fan favorite ran out on the field in the ninth inning, the crowd went wild. Gibson memorably hit the game-winning home run.
“I made them believe,” Lasorda reflected in a 2014 speech.
Steve Garvey, the famed Dodger first baseman, likened Lasorda to another master of his craft.
“He was the P.T. Barnum of baseball,” Garvey told NBC affiliate KMIR-TV Palm Springs.