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Cooperstown Is Tommy's Town | BASEBALL

Being Good for the Game Is Also Good for Lasorda

March 06, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Don't ask. It can't be done.

There is no way to compare managers from different eras.

There is no way to measure their comparative roster strengths or the strength of their opposition.

As Tom Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau said Wednesday: "I don't think anyone would argue with the election of Tom Lasorda to the Hall of Fame. It was a no-brainer.

"He managed one club for 20 years without being fired. How many managers can say that? As far as comparing him to other managers or ranking them, how do you do that?

"I think you would have had to be there to get a feel for how they operated, who they managed and what they managed against.

"I mean, I feel there've been a lot of managers in the last 20 or 25 years who deserve to be in and aren't.

"Lasorda was one. Dick Williams and Sparky Anderson are two others. Maybe the veterans' committee has begun to rectify the situation by electing Earl Weaver last year and now Lasorda. Hopefully, Williams and Anderson will get in soon."

Lasorda became the 14th manager in the hall. What is the yardstick by which he is measured against the 13 others?

Is his record better or worse than former New York Yankee managers Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, who only had to pray that their Bronx Bombers stayed injury-free?

Is his record better or worse than Dodger predecessors Walter Alston and Wilbert Robinson? Better or worse than the fiery Leo Durocher's and sedate Connie Mack's? Better or worse than the inimitable Weaver's?

"I've never checked out all their records," Lasorda said of his 13 Cooperstown colleagues.

"I know there are some great managers in the hall, and for me to be in their select company is hard to believe."

Not so hard. Lasorda's record stands on its own merit.

He won seven division titles, four National League pennants and two World Series in his 20 years at the Dodger helm.

He managed nine rookies of the year, including Todd Hollandsworth in 1996; two Cy Young Award winners, and a National League most valuable player.

There might have been questions about his strategical ability at times, but he was a master communicator and motivator--even if that bleeding blue shtick frequently wore thin, even if some players accused him of different rules for different players, of not fulfilling every promise, accusations made usually after they had left.

What they couldn't accuse him of was failing to know their wives' names or their children's names or their second cousins' names.

What they couldn't accuse him of was failing to care about the game or organization.

He has been an ambassador for his sport, and that certainly factored into his election and is probably a distinction the 13 other hall managers couldn't claim, with the possible exception of Stengel and Mack.

The respected Bill Rigney, a former major league manager and now a special advisor with the Oakland Athletics, applauded Lasorda's election and seemed to offer an appropriate handle.

Asked how Lasorda's record compared to those 13 other managers, Rigney said, "I don't think that's why he's in there. Was he Al Lopez or Walter Alston or Casey Stengel? I don't think so.

"Tommy probably did as good as he could [with the talent he had], but the part of the combination that got him there was that he lasted so well with his one organization and he was good for the game.

"I mean, the committee deserves credit for recognizing that. Even though Tommy may not have set any world records [as a manager], he had respect for the game and people in it, and the fans loved him wherever he went.

"I think it's great."

So did a patient at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton.

Al Campanis fell and broke an arm Tuesday. The former Dodger executive had suffered a series of minor strokes two years ago and will be hospitalized for a week or two for tests.

Campanis, 80, had planned to travel to Vero Beach on Saturday at Dodger owner Peter O'Malley's invitation.

That trip has been canceled, but Jim Campanis said his father was cheered by a call from Lasorda on Wednesday, sharing the news of his election.

"They've been friends for 50 years, and Dad feels he contributed to Tommy getting this honor," the younger Campanis said. "We had talked about it and felt he was a shoo-in, considering what he's done for the Dodgers and the game."

It was Campanis who gave Lasorda the opportunity to scout and later manage in the minors. Jim Campanis said his father recognized a tenacity in Lasorda, a willingness to work hard and an ability to relate to people.

"This wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Al," Lasorda said. "He was my mentor and I wanted to share the day with him.

"He pushed me through the organization and I'm grateful for the opportunities he gave me and things he taught me. I learned more about the game from Al than anyone."

What he learned helped put him in the Hall of Fame. Is his record better or worse than the 13 managers who preceded him?

You can compare the plaques on Aug. 3, but they won't tell the whole story.

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