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No Arguing It: Lasorda Is Back

His team is either too young or too old, but players haven't heard his shtick before. Still, it might be a long couple of weeks for Hall of Fame manager.

September 17, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

SYDNEY, Australia — He promised he would be calm.

This was not Chavez Ravine, this was the Summer Olympics. This was not about Pedro Guerrero, it was about patriotism.

"I'm a Hall of Famer. How would it look if I'm running out there in front of the whole world to argue with umpires?" Tom Lasorda said.

So it happened today that, five batters into his first game as a manager in four years, Tom Lasorda ran out there in front of the whole world to argue with an umpire.

Amid a mixture of laughter and cries of "Tommy, Tommy," Lasorda sprinted out of the USA dugout to protest a blown call at first base in the first inning against Japan.

OK, he jogged.

Well, truth be told, he just sort of walked.

But he made it. And once there he gestured, and pointed, and shook his head, and somewhere an old Dodger fan sighed.

As has happened every time in the last, oh, 30 years, Lasorda lost the argument.

But the good news is, he was able to huff and puff his way back to the dugout afterward.

Nearly four hours later, after his outmanned team had blown a lead with a throwing error in the ninth, a journeyman minor leaguer named Mike Neill hit a two-run homer in the 13th to give the U.S. a 4-2 victory.

"All I can say," Lasorda said earlier this week, "is God bless America."


The uniform still fits.


"Looks great," Lasorda shouted after bending and sucking and squeezing into a USA baseball shirt and pants. "But I can't get any socks that work. Why can't they get me any socks!"

The bunt signs are still the same.

If only his kids can figure them out.

"They're babies, I tell you," Lasorda shouted. "Babies!"

The spirit is still there.

Just as long as Lasorda doesn't have to sleep in it.

The former Dodger manager's first act after arriving with his team in Sydney last week was to move into the Olympic Village.

His second act, a few hours later, was to move out.

"No TV, no phones, it was tough in there," he said.

It could be tough everywhere these next couple of weeks for a 72-year-old man who has spent most of the last four years playing ambassador and grandfather.

When Lasorda retired in 1996 for medical reasons, he still had a few nagging urges to return to the dugout. This should clear those up quick.

His team is either very young or quite old. His players are either several years from the major leagues or several years past.

His competition is formidable. Cuba brings in a team that is unbeaten in its only two Olympics.

His energy seems enough to weather all of it.

But they've only played one game.

"We will play hard, and we will play with pride," Lasorda said. "In a couple of years, you are going to be seeing these guys all over the major leagues."

And about Cuba . . .

"I am going to dedicate our game against the Cubans to all the refugees living in Miami," he said.

They'll love hearing that in Havana. Not that Lasorda cares.

He's taking on all comers here, including the glove that feeds him.

This team was sold to Lasorda as a chance to manage the first group of professional baseball players in the Olympics.

But our professional teams wouldn't give him any of their best young players, and Lasorda is not thrilled.

Despite his urgings--including a plea for patriotism at an All-Star Game meeting in July--general managers called up all the best young minor leaguers for the final month of the regular major league season.

"I'm disappointed, I thought major league baseball could have given us more," Lasorda said. "But I guarantee you this, once you get to know these guys, you will love them."

Once you get to know them.

When Lasorda joined them at the end of August, he had only heard of a handful.

There was former World Series MVP Pat Borders, who was now in an independent league. There was major league journeyman Ernie Young. There was a guy who had spent last season with the Minnesota Twins named Doug Mientkiewicz.

Then there was a whole bunch of guys still so obscure, at least one name has been misspelled on a uniform.

"Tommy's a funny guy," said center fielder Brad Wilkerson, who just finished his first season of pro ball. "He keeps calling Brent Abernathy by the wrong name, calling him 'Trent.' I think he knows his right name, but I'm not sure."

His players are equally in awe of him, and amused by him.

Sound like any Dodger team you remember?

They like the way he gives his "America the Beautiful" speeches before workouts and games.

"He runs the gamut of emotion with us," Borders said. "He's up, he's down, he's scared, he's everything."

They also like the way he has helped turn this anonymous group into a village cafeteria favorite.

"When other athletes find out who we are, they are like, 'Oh, you know Tom Lasorda, can you get his autograph?' " Wilkerson said.

But will everyone be happy in two weeks? Will Lasorda enjoy watching kids throwing away balls in the ninth inning? Will kids enjoy 21 more speeches?

Only the Big Uncle Sam in the Sky knows for sure.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:

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