Tommy, do you eat differently depending on how the team's doing?
"What happens with me is that when we lose I'm so mad that I eat a lot. . . . Then when we win I'm so happy that I eat a lot. . . . Then when we get rained out I'm so mad that we're not playing that I eat a lot."
So began Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda, baseball's designated great eater, on his philosophy about food.
Asking one of America's famous talkers to converse about his favorite off-field subject is like asking Tip O'Neill about Boston politics or Ed McMahon about a certain St. Louis beer. Lasorda lectures from a wealth of knowledge and is the kind of guy who teammates say can make sparks fly from forks.
The discourse was offered recently between frequent bites of Chinese and Italian food at a hastily arranged pregame meal in Lasorda's Dodger Stadium office--a prestige destination for Los Angeles-area takeout orders.
The office, which is adorned with more photos of celebrities than sit in the files at MGM studios, is a citadel for good eating. And when you drop by Lasorda's headquarters for a bite, there is a certain reverence due the moment. Certainly, it's not every day one can nosh with the mealtime version of "The Natural."
The man whose picture appears on restaurant walls in virtually every major city in the nation readily admits he has never met a meal he didn't like. For that matter, there haven't been that many restaurants he's forsaken.
Once asked what was the worst meal he ever had, Lasorda was quick to reply: "Fantastic."
This man's affection for food is total and his endurance is legendary. During the lean years in the minor leagues he became the king of the cheap, all-you-can-eat smorgasbords. In fact, that era may have been the launching pad for the consumption notoriety he now enjoys.
Lasorda looks back on the buffet days and warns that he is writing a second book to complement his current offering, "The Artful Dodger." The work in progress is a sort of public service and concerns maximizing food intake.
Some of his yet-to-be-released buffet tips include only eating the main courses, piling the plate from the edges toward the center and not drinking too much.
"Oh, yeah. . . . Another thing is I used to (stop eating) a lot of times and not because my stomach was full. (The reason was that) my arms got tired. So, I suggest that you bend your arms at the wrist rather than the elbow. That way you won't get tired," he said while demonstrating the technique with the same intense concentration he'd devote to teaching a rookie pitcher the slider.
When Lasorda fulfilled a lifelong dream and became manager of the Dodgers in 1977, the pre- and post-game meals became a fixture in the manager's office. Dodger players who have spent time on other ball clubs say there is nothing in professional baseball like Lasorda's raucous stadium snacks.
The ritual is sandwiched in a day that begins for the players about three hours before the game with an early workout and sometimes ends eight or nine hours later.
Lasorda claims that his fondness for the likes of veal parmigiana is secondary to his concern that his team gets enough to eat.
"I do it primarily for the players (because) I want them to have a bite to eat. I like it when they come into my office and are able to relax with me. . . . When we lose, we kind of drown our sorrows (in food). I like to see my players really get something to eat before the day is over."
Honorable intentions aside, the gregarious and loquacious Lasorda has attained celebrity as much for his eating prowess as for his significant managerial accomplishments (four times manager-of-the-year and three World Series).
Stories abound from those who have witnessed one of his dinner table gatherings and, thus, can recount the many memorable incidents, such as the evening he ordered pasta for dessert.
There was also the time in Atlanta a few years ago after a 7-1 loss to the Braves when an upset stomach limited his postgame appetite to only two plates of chicken and rice.
Another classic moment occurred when he was being interviewed about the death of a colleague, and in the midst of waxing eloquently about the man's accomplishments, yelled to a clubhouse attendant, "Where's the (bleep) in my (bleeping) chili?"
Then there's the seafood restaurant episode when Lasorda ordered four dozen oysters on the half shell and proceeded to polish them all off--as an appetizer.
On yet another occasion, before a game in Philadelphia against the Phillies, a sore throat was bothering the great eater and it limited the pregame meal to a "half-dozen hot peppers, a heaping bowl of linguine and a king-size hoagie."
That is the one food Lasorda puts above all others when it comes to the dishes that make his dinner-table playoffs.