Tommy Lasorda, the eternally optimistic Hall of Famer who managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for 20 seasons and led them to two World Series titles, is getting a fitting tribute this weekend.
The LAX pylons are drenched in Dodger blue and white as the city continues to mourn Lasorda, who died Thursday at age 93. The honor is being shared with longtime City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who also died Thursday, at age 67.
On Friday, airport officials announced plans for the weekend tribute to the two Los Angeles icons.
Lasorda, long hailed as one of the most colorful figures in baseball, suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home just after 10 p.m. Thursday and was taken to a hospital “with resuscitation in progress,” according to the Dodgers. He was pronounced dead at 10:57 p.m.
Lasorda had just been released Tuesday from an Orange County hospital, where he spent about six weeks. He was hospitalized in November, shortly after attending the Dodgers’ World Series-clinching victory in Arlington, Texas. No official reason for the hospitalization was ever provided, although TMZ reported that he was suffering from heart issues and spent time on a ventilator in an intensive-care unit.
Lasorda was released from the ICU in early December, but remained hospitalized.
A Hall of Famer since 1997, Lasorda led the Dodgers to two World Series championships and two World Series losses during his 20-year managerial career.
The Fullerton resident was with the Dodgers organization for more than 70 years as a player, scout, manager and front office executive. He was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945, before reaching the big leagues as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954.
He managed the Dodgers from 1976-96, and was serving as a special adviser to the chairman at the time of his death.
“My family, my partners and I were blessed to have spent a lot of time with Tommy,” Mark Walter, Dodgers owner/chairman, said. “He was a great ambassador for the team and baseball and a mentor to players and coaches. He always had time for an autograph and a story for his many fans and he was a good friend. he will be dearly missed.”
Stan Kasten, team president/CEO, added, “In a franchise that has celebrated such great legends of the game, no one who wore the uniform embodied the Dodger spirit as much as Tommy Lasorda. A tireless spokesman for baseball, his dedication to the sport and the team he loved was unmatched. He was a champion who at critical moments seemingly willed his teams to victory. The Dodgers and their fans will miss him terribly. Tommy is quite simply irreplaceable and unforgettable.”
Praised as one of baseball’s greatest ambassadors and known as one of the sport’s great interviews, Lasorda was a ubiquitous media presence during his managing days and made multiple appearances on television shows, often playing himself. His Dodger teams reached the World Series four times and frequently knocked on the door in other seasons, winning division titles in 1983, 1985 and 1995 and missing the playoffs by a single game in 1980 and 1982.
Lasorda was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 22, 1927. He was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945, but reached the big leagues as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. He started one game for the 1955 Dodgers and won a World Series ring that year despite only appearing in four games.
Lasorda struggled to stick in the major leagues as a pitcher. He was sold to the Kansas City Athletics in 1956, traded to the New York Yankees and then sold back to the Dodgers in 1957. But he played more for the Montreal Royals of the International League, a Dodgers’ minor league affiliate. He was once sent down to Montreal after the Dodgers were forced to keep a young Sandy Koufax on their roster due to the Bonus Rule. He later joked that it took Koufax — a Hall of Famer and one the greatest pitchers in baseball history — to keep him off the Dodger pitching staff.
After his playing career ended in 1960, Lasorda spent the next decade working his way up through the Dodgers organization as a scout and minor league manager. In 1973 he was made the team’s third-base coach and heir-apparent to longtime manager Walter Alston, finally taking over when Alston retired at the end of the 1976 season after Alston had managed the team for 23 seasons.
In his early years managing the team, the gregarious Lasorda was often known as much for his celebrity connections, bringing famous pals such as Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles and fellow Italian-American notables such as Tony Danza into the clubhouse after games. His Hollywood ways led some to dismiss his managerial abilities, but Lasorda would eventually win them over with sheer endurance and two world championships.
His outgoing personality had a bit of a salty side, notoriously captured in a furious 1978 tirade after a reporter asked for his opinion of Dave Kingman’s performance after the Cubs outfielder had hit three home runs against the Dodgers. Lasorda cursed a blue streak, and bootleg versions of the tape made the rounds for years, taking some of the luster off his image for some, but endearing him to other fans even more.
Lasorda took over a talented young team led by the infield of Steve Garvey at first, Davey Lopes at second, shortstop Bill Russell and third-baseman Ron Cey. They made it to the World Series in 1977 and 1978, losing two frustrating six-game series to the New York Yankees. Slugger Reggie Jackson memorably hit three home runs in the Yankees’ 1977 title-clinching Game 6 victory at Yankee Stadium. The following year, the Dodgers won the first two games before losing four straight.
When the Dodgers finally made it over the hump in 1981, they did so in dramatic style. Major League Baseball added an extra round to the playoffs that year due to a players strike. In the division series, the Dodgers lost the first two games of a best-of-five series to the Houston Astros before storming back to win three straight.
The National League Championship Series offered more drama, with the Dodgers falling behind the Montreal Expos two games to one, and needing to win the final two games in Canada. After a blowout win in Game 4, the Dodgers won the deciding fifth game on a ninth-inning home run by Rick Monday, setting the stage for a rematch with Jackson and the Yankees in the 1981 World Series.
This time L.A. flipped the script from 1978, losing the first two game at Yankee Stadium and returning home with most believing the pinstripes simply had their number. The subsequent three games at Dodger Stadium constituted one of the most memorable baseball weekends in Los Angeles history.
Led by rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, L.A. won Game 3, 5-4, on a Friday night. Game 4 was played the next day and was a raucous, see-saw affair, with the Dodgers coming back from a 6-3 deficit to win, 8-7 thanks in part to a two-run, pinch-hit homer by Jay Johnstone. The Dodgers faced Yankees ace Ron Guidry in Sunday’s pivotal Game 5 and trailed, 1-0, in the seventh inning when Pedro Guerrero woke up the crowd by sending a Guidry slider into the left-field seats to tie the game. The next batter, catcher Steve Yeager, did likewise and L.A. had to 2-1 victory and a 3-2 series lead.
Three nights later, Lasorda and the Dodgers vanquished their nemesis in the Big Apple for their long-awaited world championship, pounding the Yankees for 13 hits in a 9-2 victory.
The Dodgers won two more division titles in 1983 and 1985, and Lasorda cemented his credentials with a second World Series title in 1988, as the team beat the heavily favored Oakland A’s in five games. The 1988 team was led by starting pitcher Orel Hershiser, who blossomed into a dominating force that season, a few years after Lasorda gave him the nickname “Bulldog” in a successful attempt to instill a tougher attitude in the right-hander.
Lasorda’s last managerial appearance in the postseason was in 1995, when the Dodgers won the National League West but lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the Division Series, three games to nothing.
Lasorda was named a team vice president after he stepped down from the manager’s role and has spent his subsequent years helping the team’s scouting, international and community relations departments, making several speaking engagements annually.
He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 1997, his first year of eligibility. Since the death of Red Schoendienst in June 2018, he has been the oldest living Hall of Famer.
“This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my lifetime,” Lasorda said in his HOF induction speech. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win world championships, (manage teams with) Cy Young Awards, MVPs, nine rookies of the year, All-Star games, but they come and go. But the Hall of Fame is eternity, and I thank God for all of it.”
In that speech, Lasorda also showed the humor and competitiveness he was known for. He talked about running into Reds manager John McNamara at a Cincinnati church before a game between the two teams years ago. As Lasorda told it, he watched McNamara re-enter the church to light a candle after the Mass, only to have Lasorda sneak back in and blow the candle out.
“I knew one thing: He was not lighting that candle for a dead relative,” Lasorda said. “And all throughout the game I kept hollering, `Hey Mac, it ain’t gonna work, pal, I blew it out.’ And we clobbered them that day, 13-to-2. And Johnny Mac last year went to Rome and he sent me a card (that said) `Try blowing this one out!”’
In the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Lasorda became the first manager to win a World Series championship and lead a team to an Olympic gold medal, when the U.S. defeated Cuba, 4-0 in the gold medal game. Cuba was favored to win and had won the gold medal at the previous two Olympics.
In July, the University of Pennsylvania announced that its newly refurbished baseball field would be named after Lasorda. The playing surface at Meiklejohn Stadium will be known as Tommy Lasorda Field once the renovation is complete.
The project is being funded by a gift of more than $2 million from businessman Warren Lichtenstein, who graduated from Penn in 1987.
“I am honored to have a baseball field named after me in my home state of Pennsylvania and at the University of Pennsylvania,” Lasorda said. “I am most thankful to my great friend, Warren Lichtenstein, and everyone at the University of Pennsylvania, for this unbelievable tribute and honor.”
Lasorda is credited with spending 71 years working for the Dodgers organization, edging out broadcaster Vin Scully for the most of anyone. Scully retired in 2016. In recent years, Lasorda was a special adviser to the chairman.
Scully, whose wife Sandi died Sunday, said he will forever remember Lasorda’s “boundless enthusiasm.”
“Tommy would get up in the morning full of beans and maintain that as long as he was with anybody else,” Scully said.
The longtime broadcaster also hailed Lasorda’s determination, both as a player and coach.
“He never quite had that sometime extra that makes a major leaguer, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try,” Scully said. “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.”
Lasorda was married to Jo for 70 years. The couple met in Greenville, South Carolina — Jo’s hometown — while Lasorda was playing for the minor league Greenville Spinners.
Lasorda is survived by Jo, their daughter Laura and granddaughter Emily Tess. Lasorda’s son, Tom Jr., died in 1991.