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End of an Era: Lasorda Retires

The 10 To Remember Him By

July 30, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE and ROSS NEWHAN

A look at 10 events and people that shaped the career of Tom Lasorda:

1. WINNING THE 1988 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP

The Dodgers, heavy underdogs to the powerful Oakland Athletics, stunned the baseball world by winning the World Series in five games. It will forever be remembered for Kirk Gibson's dramatic pinch-hit home run in Game 1, and the Athletics never recovered. The home run recently was voted as the greatest athletic moment in Los Angeles sports history.

2. THE 1985 NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS

The Dodgers, needing to win Game 6 of the National League championship series against the Cardinals, were leading, 5-4, in the ninth inning when the Cardinals put runners on second and third with one out. Jack Clark stepped to the plate. Instead of intentionally walking Clark, Lasorda allowed reliever Tom Niedenfuer to pitch to him. Clark hit the ball into the left-field pavilion for a 7-5 victory, sending the Cardinals to the World Series. It was a decision that haunted Lasorda until his retirement.

3. FERNANDOMANIA

Lasorda, believing in a 20-year-old pudgy kid from Mexico who didn't know a word of English, was instrumental in introducing Fernando Valenzuela to the baseball world, and Los Angeles was never the same. Valenzuela won the Cy Young and rookie-of-the-year awards, leading the Dodgers to the World Series championship.

4. 1981 WORLD SERIES

The Dodgers, who had not won a World Series since 1965, were bitterly frustrated after losing in the World Series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978. They were facing them again for the third time in five years and appeared headed toward defeat again. The Dodgers trailed two games to none, but came back and won four in a row, bringing Lasorda his first championship. Reliever Steve Howe got the final out of the World Series, but his drug problems ruined his Dodger career and left a huge void in the bullpen that the Dodgers only recently filled. "You always wonder how good the Dodgers would have been if Howe never had his problems," said Whitey Herzog, former St. Louis Cardinal manager. "That hurt them bad. It took them a long time to recover."

5. MIKE PIAZZA

Lasorda grew up with Vince Piazza, who wound up becoming a multimillionaire, and happened to have a son named Mike. Vince Piazza wanted Lasorda to do him a favor: He asked if the Dodgers would take an interest in Piazza and draft him. The Dodgers drafted him in 1988 with a courtesy pick in the 62nd round, but never would have signed him without Lasorda's coaxing. Today, Piazza is considered one of the best players in the game and is emerging as perhaps the finest hitting catcher in baseball history.

6. WINNING THE 1977 NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST TITLE

The Cincinnati Reds mowed through the National League throughout the '70s. No one could keep up with the Big Red Machine. Yet, in Lasorda's first year, he told the world that the Reds would go down. Lasorda motivated his team to the NL West championship, ending the Reds' reign, and winning the pennant over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers won again the next year, and Red Manager Sparky Anderson was soon fired, good-naturedly blaming Lasorda for his departure.

7. ROOKIES OF THE YEAR

It started with Rick Sutcliffe in 1979. Then Howe. And Valenzuela. And Steve Sax. And continued last season with Hideo Nomo. In all, Lasorda produced eight rookies of the year, more than any manager in baseball history.

8. SLIM-FAST

Lasorda was paid to become the pitchman for an unknown diet system. He lost nearly 50 pounds on a $10,000 bet with Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser, gave the money to charity, and soon became a household name. The ad campaign greatly enhanced Lasorda's reputation as one of the finest motivational speakers on the banquet circuit.

9. NOMOMANIA

Hideo Nomo became the Fernando of the '90s. Nomo became only the second Japanese player to be in the major leagues, and Lasorda virtually became his public relations man, touting Nomo wherever he went. He ate dinner nearly every night with Nomo in spring training, invited him to his room and took care of him like a son. Nomo became the biggest hit of the season, with Lasorda leading the way.

10. THE DAVE KINGMAN TAPE

It was an innocent question posed by a radio reporter, asking Lasorda what he thought of Dave Kingman's performance after hitting three home runs against the Dodgers. "What do I think of Dave Kingman's performance? What the . . . do you . . . think I . . . think of . . . Dave Kingman's performance? It became the hottest black-market tape in broadcasting.

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