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Force Play? | BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN

Trip to Cooperstown Should Be Included in His Itinerary

July 30, 1996|Ross Newhan

Tom Lasorda's first assignment as vice president of the Dodgers will come Wednesday morning when he attends a Dodger Stadium meeting with owner Peter O'Malley and Executive Vice President Fred Claire dealing with international baseball.

The Dodgers see their former manager serving several roles: international ambassador, advisor on player decisions, part-time instructor.

He may travel to their academy in the Dominican Republic, to the Arizona Instructional League, to Albuquerque and other farm clubs, to Japan and other baseball outposts.

He may also be in Cooperstown, N.Y., as early as next summer.

Lasorda's managerial record--based both on accomplishment and longevity--should qualify him for the Hall of Fame, the ultimate measurement.

At 68, he would be eligible for election by the veterans committee in March. He would not have to wait the usual five years after retirement.

Anyone over 65 has to wait only six months to be considered.

"I'm willing to vote for him right away," said Buzzie Bavasi, a member of the committee.

Bavasi, of course, may be a bit biased.

He was not only a former general manager of the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, he sold and repurchased Lasorda three times during his pitching career.

"He made a lot of money for us," Bavasi said Monday.

Although never one to de-emphasize the importance of a dollar, Bavasi said he would support Lasorda for other reasons.

"The Hall of Fame is for winning, and he won," Bavasi said of Lasorda's managerial record. "He compares favorably with anyone we've ever considered--if on longevity alone."

The veterans committee elected former Baltimore Oriole manager Earl Weaver in March, and he will be inducted as the 12th manager in the Hall on Aug. 4.

Weaver piloted the Orioles with flair and acerbic wit for 17 seasons, consistently blessed with outstanding pitching and defense--not to mention three players now in the Hall (Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer) and two others (Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.) who seem headed to the Hall.

Weaver's .583 win percentage ranks sixth among 20th-century managers with 10 or more years of service, and his five 100-win seasons are second only to Joe McCarthy. He won six division titles, four pennants and the 1970 World Series.

Lasorda, in his 19 previous seasons, won two World Series, four pennants and eight division crowns. He is 12th on the all-time list in wins, 12th in games and 23rd in win percentage.

No manager has ever been more of an ambassador for his organization or game, and that should play into Hall consideration.

"Tommy was first or second 13 times," O'Malley said at Monday's news conference. "I'll stack that record against anyone.

"He had eight rookies of the year. His credentials are Hall-of-Fame magnitude. There's no doubt about it. He's knocking on the door."

Whether the veterans committee answers in March, however, may be doubtful.

He has Bavasi's support but needs 11 other votes from the 15-member committee. The problem is that former managers fall into a category that also includes executives, umpires and former players from the Negro leagues.

Only one person can be elected from that grouping, although Negro league players are being considered separately under a five-year exemption that has three years remaining.

"Tommy is certainly deserving; there's no question about it," committee chairman Joe Brown, former general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, said Monday.

"He's been an outstanding manager for a long time, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that he wouldn't go in immediately because of the limitations we're under and the fact we've had other people under consideration who are equally deserving. I think Tommy will have to stand in line, but then I'm trying to guess how the other 14 members are thinking."

Among the managers the committee considered while electing Weaver were Billy Martin, Charlie Grimm, Billy Southworth and Danny Murtaugh.

Lasorda's credentials, as O'Malley noted, stack up with all of them and are generally superior.

At his emotional news conference Monday, Lasorda said he credited his managerial longevity to a patient owner, an understanding general manager and a lot of great players.

He said he never talked about strategy (cynics might say there was never much strategy to talk about), never credited his moves for winning a game, because "I'd be taking away from the players, and it's the players who win games."

Nevertheless, after the cameras and microphones were gone Monday, Lasorda cited the division title of 1995, the fact that the Dodgers were first in the West when the strike began in 1994 and have been in or near the lead for most of this season, and said, "I feel like I'm going out a winner. I mean, what more did I have to prove."

That's what Bavasi and Al Campanis and Rod Dedeaux and Vince Piazza and his brother Eddie kept stressing to him as Lasorda weighed his options over the weekend, ultimately deciding "there's more to life than managing."

Hard to believe Tom Lasorda would ever say that?

Well, sources insist he was pressured into the decision, that he wanted to continue managing but O'Malley and Claire said otherwise. This much is certain:

If he's going out a winner, he'll eventually go in a winner, the veterans committee will see to it.

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