Dodgers: Tommy Lasorda’s amazing journey to the managerial spotlight

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1988 : Manager Tommy Lasorda #2 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after winning the 1988 NLDS at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - 1988 : Manager Tommy Lasorda #2 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after winning the 1988 NLDS at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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What more can you say about Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda?

The baseball world suffered a great loss with the passing of Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda. I thought I would take a deeper look into one of the more illustrious lives in baseball history.

The future Hall of Famer did not always seem to be destined for a Cooperstown-bound path. After signing with the Phillies organization out of high school, Lasorda served two years in the army. Upon his return to pro baseball, the young southpaw was assigned to the Class C Schenectady Blue Jays (equivalent of Class A in today’s minor leagues) in the Can-Am league.

In 1948, Lasorda set a Can-Am league record with 25 strikeouts in a game in a 15-inning victory over the Amsterdam Rugmakers, also knocking the game-winning single (who said he couldn’t play?!). The Dodgers acquired him from his hometown Phillies the following year, and he soon found himself pitching for the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s Triple-A affiliate at the time.

Lasorda dominated the International League for the next four seasons, winning four league titles and becoming the winningest pitcher in Royals history. He was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Tommy finally got the call from the Dodgers in 1954, working nine innings of relief in five games. He got the starting nod for the first time in his career the following year, but unfortunately threw three wild pitches in the first inning in what would become his last outing with the Dodgers (but, uh, not the last time he appeared in their uniform).

Lasorda was demoted to Montreal and traded to the Kansas City A’s in 1956, but he would only appear in seven more games at the Major League level. Lasorda didn’t exactly take the majors by storm, but during his short playing career, he demonstrated that he embodied the intangible qualities that eventually led him to become the beloved baseball ambassador that fans came to know and appreciate.

Vin Scully had this to say on Tommy Lasorda’s playing career, which accurately and eloquently captures what made Lasorda more than what his player stats reflect:

"“There are two things about Tommy I will always remember. The first is his boundless enthusiasm. Tommy would get up in the morning full of beans and maintain that as long as he was with anybody else. The other was his determination. He was a fellow with limited ability and he pushed himself to be a very good Triple-A pitcher. He never quite had that something extra that makes a major leaguer, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try. Those are some of the things: his competitive spirit, his determination, and above all, this boundless energy and self-belief. His heart was bigger than his talent and there were no foul lines for his enthusiasm.”"

After hanging up his spikes in 1960, Lasorda rejoined the Dodger organization as a scout, a position he would hold for the next five years.

He spent the next seven years working his way up the Dodgers’ minor league managerial ranks, until he was named the third base coach for the big club in 1973. The incumbent manager, Dodger legend and fellow Hall of Famer Walter Alston, was nearing retirement and Lasorda was viewed by many to be next in line.

Lasorda took over in 1976, and the rest is history.

Although his outspoken personality was a stark contrast from that of the famously reserved Alston, Lasorda’s determination and motivational techniques were quickly accepted by his players, and he went on to be one of the most successful managers and beloved baseball figures of all time.

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