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MIKE DOWNEY

Halo & Goodbye : Job Might Have Been Lasorda's

August 07, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

One Sunday morning, in a church in Cincinnati, somebody sat in a pew beside Tom Lasorda, the Dodger manager, who was attending Mass before leaving for the ballpark. Lasorda looked over and saw to his astonishment that it was the Reds' manager, John McNamara.

When the services were over, McNamara asked Lasorda to wait for him outside. Curious, Lasorda watched to see what McNamara did next. What he saw was McNamara on the far right side of the altar, lighting a candle.

Lasorda waited for McNamara to leave. Then he sneaked around by the left side, so as not to be seen. When he was sure nobody was looking, Lasorda blew out McNamara's candle.

He didn't say a word about it until the Dodger-Red game began. And then, inning after inning, no matter what McNamara would do, Lasorda could be heard yelling from the dugout: "It ain't gonna work, John! I blew out your candle!"

The point of the story, Lasorda loved to say later, was that you had better do everything you can to win, because your competitor is going to be doing everything he can to stop you.

A new man is managing not only the Dodgers today, but the Angels. The man in Anaheim happens to be John McNamara.

But think about this:

Under a different set of circumstances, the manager of the Angels could very well have turned out to be . . . drum roll . . . Tom Lasorda.

Suppose for a moment the Dodgers truly did "force" Lasorda out, as some have persistently speculated. Further suppose that Lasorda did not wish to retire from managing, that medical and sentimental considerations were not the real reasons he stepped down--I mean up--from the job he loved.

Today, he could be bleeding Orange County red.

Oh, Tommy is a true-blue Dodger, no doubt about that. After once saying that he wanted on his tombstone, "Tommy Lasorda, Dodger Stadium was his address, but every ballpark was his home," Peter O'Malley actually had someone create a headstone with those words engraved on it, with droplets of painted Dodger blue blood, dripping. He gave it to Lasorda as a gag gift.

Lasorda's response was that he wanted the yearly Dodger schedule taped to this tombstone, so that visitors to his grave could also check whether the team was at home or on the road.

I also know, however, how much Lasorda relishes managing, and that he, like everyone else in his profession--Marcel Lachemann being the latest--knows that the turnover in this business is like few others.

As long ago as 1980, a newspaper in this town took a poll: "Should Lasorda manage the Dodgers next season?" (Tommy: "I ignored that poll totally. Besides, I won, 5,822 votes to 2,123.")

There were rumors that George Steinbrenner inquired about Lasorda managing the Yankees. There were rumors Lasorda was putting together a syndicate to buy the White Sox. Lies, Lasorda said later.

Yet, if at any time during the past 10 years, Lasorda had been dismissed, the way most other managers have been, I sincerely believe that he would have preferred managing somebody else, the Mets, the Cubs, the Marlins, anybody, to occupying a vice president's office in a coat and tie. This is only my opinion.

Therefore, let us suppose that the Dodgers had failed to take their division last fall, that Raul Mondesi doesn't hit that home run, that Hideo Nomo doesn't make that strong effort against the Padres. They can deny it now, but I believe it is possible Tommy's job might have been in jeopardy.

Who knows? Maybe there would have been no heart attack. Maybe these past few months, Lasorda would have been tranquilly working as a VP of the Dodgers. And maybe he would have been bored out of his mind, so much so that when Lachemann lost his job, Lasorda would have been at home in Fullerton, waiting for the Angels to call.

Funny game, baseball.

I felt from the beginning that as much as Lasorda liked managing, Lachemann disliked it. Didn't surprise me a bit that he quit. I winced when Rick Burleson, someone whose opinion I respect, was quoted that second-guessers were trying to get rid of Lachemann, because to me it seemed Marcel was his own worst second-guesser.

McNamara, a 62-year-old temp, says of managing the Angels next season, "Never say never, but I seriously doubt it. I've had my day in the sun."

He never played for a major league club, but has managed most of them. I doubt Johnny Mac will be available to the Angels in the future, because he still hasn't managed the Dodgers, the Giants, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and one or two others.

Don Long, Jim Lefebvre, Sparky Anderson . . . whomever Disney decides on, I will light a candle for him. I have a personal recommendation, somebody who is good with players, has experience and likes managing . . . Rene Lachemann, Marcel's brother.

Another day, week, month, year, Tom Lasorda might have been interested.

Then again, here's another story Tommy tells:

"If someone came up to me and said he's with the Padres, I would say: 'When did you become a priest?' If someone said he was with the Indians, I'd ask what reservation he came from. If he said he was a Twin, I'd ask, 'Where's your brother?' If he said he was a Cardinal, I'd say, 'Work hard, the next step up is to be Pope.'

"But if someone comes up to you and says he's a Dodger, you know he's in major league baseball."

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