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News Brings Cheers Off Field

Reaction: Family and friends emotional at Lasorda's election to Hall of Fame.

March 06, 1997|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — The noise was deafening. Champagne corks were popping. There were television crews from every major network.

Lasorda's restaurant in Exton, Pa., long has been popular among the townsfolk in the Norristown area, but the celebration Wednesday night was the topper.

"You should see it here," Harry Lasorda said. "It's crazy. Everybody's here. This place has been buzzing all day long.

"I can hardly talk. I still can't believe it. The Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame!

"The greatest ballplayers in the world are there.

"And now, so is my brother.

"Holy cow!"

Tom Lasorda, a poor Italian kid from Norristown was elected Wednesday to baseball's Hall of Fame.

"Oh, man, what a day," said Vince Piazza, Lasorda's childhood friend. "When Tommy called me, it took three minutes for me to regain my composure. I just couldn't handle it. I broke down and cried.

"What's so nice about it is that his peers voted him in. When you think about great managers like Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog, and they're not in but Tommy is, it tells you what they think of him.

"Tommy has done more for the game than anybody who ever put the uniform on."

Lasorda, who managed nearly 20 years for the Dodgers until retiring July 29, 1996, after suffering a mild heart attack, is the 14th manager to be named to the hall.

And if you listen to some of his associates, perhaps he shouldn't stop at Cooperstown.

"The man should be commissioner," said Jack McKeon, former San Diego Padre general manager. "I mean that. You telling me he can't do a better job than the guys they have running baseball? Tommy would be great.

"I know Tommy is great for the Dodgers, but baseball needs Tommy."

Yet, in many ways, Lasorda's friends will tell you, he needed the Hall of Fame now more than at any time in his life.

There hasn't been a day that he didn't think about managing. There was an emptiness without a baseball manager's daily grind.

"I remember when the season was winding down and we were together," Dodger Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said. "I'd say to him, 'Boy, I can't wait for the winter to relax.'

"Tommy looked me in the eyes, and said, 'If I had my way, I wish we had a game every day of the year.'

"Tommy meant that."

That is why Lasorda has so desperately missed baseball. Sure, he is a vice president of the Dodgers, but it hasn't been the same.

That changed with the phone call advising him he was now a Hall of Famer.

"This is the best thing that could have happened to him," said Piazza, whose son, Mike, was drafted by the Dodgers simply as a courtesy to Lasorda, then became a star. "He has missed it so badly, and with all of the turmoil with the club being sold and everything, he needed a lift like this. It couldn't come at a better time.

"This is just a Cinderella story that just keeps going on and on."

The election also validates Lasorda's career as a manager.

"I think his baseball knowledge and expertise is underrated because of how flamboyant and knowledgeable he is," Mike Piazza said. "It's good not only what he has accomplished as a manager, but what he's done for the game. He's devoted his entire life to baseball."

Said Manager Bill Russell, who succeeded Lasorda: "His record speaks for itself. He never tried to get the credit. He just went out and did the job. If you thought he wasn't a good manager, this proves that he was."

Certainly, no one in the game was a better goodwill ambassador than Lasorda.

"When he first started out, nobody could have anticipated what kind of impact he'd have on the game," center fielder Brett Butler said. "If anybody exemplifies what a Hall of Famer means, and what he's done for baseball, you've got to put him at the top of the list."

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