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Lasorda, in St. Louis, Defends Pitch Heard Round the World

October 24, 1985|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — He was an island of blue in a sea of red, signing autographs in the lobby of the Marriott Pavilion Hotel, across the street from Busch Stadium.

One man politely asked Tom Lasorda to sign for his Uncle John, in the hospital. A teacher asked him to sign for his classroom of students back home. A blond boy in a Cardinal cap asked him to sign his World Series program.

No one asked Lasorda why he hadn't walked Jack Clark a week ago in Los Angeles, when the Dodger season ended with a thunderbolt by Clark and tears from Lasorda.

And he wasn't second-guessing himself, either, for permitting Tom Niedenfuer to throw a home run pitch to Clark when first base was open.

"I'm not living with it," said Lasorda, when asked if he would have to live with his decision the way Ralph Branca forever had to live with Bobby Thomson's home run in a 1951 National League playoff, the so-called shot heard round the world.

"I did what I thought was right."

The headlines the day after the Dodgers were eliminated from the National League playoffs were not as kind as the autograph seekers who surrounded Lasorda a couple of hours before Game 4 of the World Series Wednesday night.

"Dodgers Die By Lasorda," said the New York Daily News. The New York Post was less subtle: "That Lunkhead Lasorda."

Lasorda said he didn't read any of it the next day. "To be honest, I didn't," he said. "I didn't want my team, any player on my team--Tom Niedenfuer or anybody else--to accept the responsibility for that loss.

"I wanted everything to fall on me. I didn't want it to fall on my players."

If that was his wish, Lasorda got it, which is perhaps one reason he didn't fall asleep, he said, until 4 or 5 a.m. after the defeat.

Hours after the game had ended and he had answered the last questions from reporters, Lasorda had gone to his home in Orange County, where his wife, Jo, was waiting.

"I was very, very discouraged," he said. "Just completely, tremendously upset."

But he didn't stay home for long. He had signed to do a soft-drink commercial with Billy Martin and Earl Weaver, one intended for showing during the World Series, and it was supposed to be filmed that night at Anaheim Stadium.

"I didn't want to go," Lasorda said. "I didn't get there until 10:30, 11 o'clock at night.

"But my wife said it was better I didn't sit at home and sulk, that all I was doing was making myself miserable. She said I ought to go down and talk to Billy and Earl."

And indeed, his spirits were lifted, he said, when he talked to his fellow managers.

"They made me realize that I wasn't that bad off," Lasorda said. "They said, 'What the hell, at least you were in the playoffs.' "

Naturally, the ninth-inning strategy came up. Weaver had heard the game on the radio, according to Lasorda, and Martin had watched on TV. "Both of 'em said I did the right thing," Lasorda said.

The next day, Lasorda said, he got telegrams from baseball people all over the country, among them Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson, San Francisco General Manager Al Rosen, and Texas Manager Bobby Valentine. "Every one of 'em told me that I did the right thing," he said.

Asked now if he had any second thoughts, Lasorda shook his head.

"To me, the second-guess is the easiest thing to do in any way of life," Lasorda said. "I describe the second-guesser as someone who has absolutely no idea about the first guess."

Lasorda brought up the decision by Kansas City Manager Dick Howser to let Charlie Leibrandt pitch the ninth inning of the second game of the World Series instead of going to his bullpen ace, Dan Quisenberry, when Leibrandt got in trouble.

"Howser has a better idea of his team," Lasorda said. "He knew his reliever had been ineffective in the bullpen. He was going with the guy (Leibrandt) who was pitching the outstanding game. And Leibrandt made a tremendous pitch to (Tito) Landrum. He just blooped it over the infield.

"I have to go with what I think is right," Lasorda said. "I didn't want to walk Clark and pitch to a left-handed hitter (Andy Van Slyke)."

Through nine postseason games, Van Slyke had 1 hit in 18 at-bats.

"That's what makes the game so great," Lasorda said. "Tom Landry (coach of football's Dallas Cowboys) lost a game against the Eagles last Sunday. No fan called up Tom Landry and said he had the wrong defense, that the cornerback was playing in the wrong spot.

"But in baseball, everybody has played at one time or another. So everybody knows what I should have done--after it happened. Even my wife knows I should have walked him."

Lasorda refused to confirm whether he had apologized to his team after the loss, as several players had said. "What I say behind closed doors stays there," he said.

"But let me ask you this: What if Clark had hit a line drive to deep center field and Ken Landreaux had leaped over the fence and caught it, like (Ken) Griffey? Would anybody have criticized me? That's one of the hazards of the job.

"How'd that same Clark do last night? What did he do last night?"

Clark struck out three times against Royal pitcher Bret Saberhagen in the Cardinals' 6-1 loss Tuesday night.

"You try to give me the impression this guy doesn't make an out," Lasorda said.

The Dodger manager said he called Niedenfuer the day after the loss and left a message on his answering machine. "Nobody felt any worse than he did," Lasorda said.

"But one thing I told my team was win with pride and lose with dignity. And I'm very proud of him, and all of my players."

Lasorda said he still hasn't gotten over the loss. But no one he has talked to, he said, has told him he did the wrong thing.

"End your story with this: Suppose he had popped up," Lasorda said.

A few moments later, Lasorda left the hotel with Dodger Vice President Al Campanis.

"There's Tom Lasorda," said a fan standing on the sidewalk as Lasorda passed by.

"Hey, Tommy," the fan called out as Lasorda disappeared in the crowd, "you should have walked him."

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