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Lasorda would much rather talk baseball

He denies sexual allegations, but the Dodgers' special advisor says he probably won't sue.

March 01, 2007|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, FLA. — Just another day at the ballpark. That's the way Tom Lasorda played it Wednesday, any humiliation from published descriptions of his alleged sexual behavior with a prostitute hidden under a cloak of Dodger blue.

Lasorda tooled around in the golf cart that has his name stenciled across the front, signed autographs and watched an intrasquad game from a seat behind home plate, snoozing through part of it. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Afterward, he found sanctuary where players and coaches always do: in a mostly empty clubhouse, reminiscing and joking and talking baseball deep into the afternoon with men less than half his age, who may or may not have known that a day earlier the former Dodgers manager and Hall of Famer was included on a celebrity-studded list of supposed clients of convicted madam Jody "Babydol" Gibson.

Lasorda, 79, didn't want to talk about the allegations -- except to deny them and insist he had never spoken to Gibson, let alone paid for sex. He said he probably won't sue her, despite his attorney's saying he intended to do so.

A Dodgers spokeswoman said Lasorda won't be punished. The team won't distance itself from him. How can it? Lasorda, the special advisor to owner Frank McCourt, represents the Dodgers for better or worse, until death do them part.

So if he was feeling a few notches lower than his usual ebullient self, he tried not to show it beneath the glare of the hot Florida morning sun. He stopped his golf cart for a cluster of fans gathered near the practice fields and patiently signed balls and photos. Nobody mentioned anything but baseball.

Then the game started and Lasorda, dressed in a Dodgers windbreaker, blue sweat pants and white sneakers, sat a row or two in front of the rest of the front office staff, chatting with a reporter before letting his head droop to his chest for a nap.

Lasorda has been somewhat out of sorts all spring because of intense pain in his left leg. Doctors told him it stems from his lower back, and in an effort to ease the discomfort he's trying to lose some of the excess weight he has carried for years, working out in a swimming pool.

Exercise has to wait most days because Lasorda can't walk through the clubhouse without striking up a conversation with players. Veterans have heard his stories many times, but there are new players every year, fresh ears for tales that date to the 1950s when Lasorda was a middling left-handed pitcher.

New Dodgers outfielder Luis Gonzalez, journeyman catcher Ken Huckaby and second-year catcher Russell Martin were gathered around him at 2 p.m., and the topic was catchers who block the plate well. Lasorda, of course, spoke highly of Mike Scioscia.

The discussion turned to motivation, and Lasorda said, "When Branch Rickey started talking, you got so fired up you wanted to hit the guy next to you."

Second baseman Jeff Kent came in and pulled a brightly painted motorcycle helmet from a box in front of his locker, a sample from a company that wants to do business with Kent's dealerships. The helmet reminded Lasorda of the time he served as starter for a NASCAR race at the California Speedway.

"I yelled, 'Gentlemen, start your engines,' in front of 120,000 people," he shouted to Kent from 20 feet away. "That was something."

Broadcaster Rick Monday ambled past and Lasorda stopped him. "Mo, Mo, sign this photo for Gene Budig, he was the American League president," Lasorda said, seemingly from out of nowhere pulling out the famous photo of Monday grabbing an American flag before it was burned in 1976.

"Address it to Dr. Budig," Lasorda said, handing Monday a Sharpie. "He has a doctorate in education. Thanks, Mo."

Gonzalez and Huckaby stuck around, giving Lasorda as good as they were getting. Nomar Garciaparra joined the group, and for two blissful hours, the world outside the clubhouse didn't exist. Gibson's tell-all book excerpts, the Internet chatter, the radio talk show grilling -- none of it mattered.

Lasorda said he won't leave Dodgertown except to accompany the team for road games until the end of spring training. No speeches. No personal appearances. No airports. He said the pain in his leg made it impossible.

If there was pain in his heart, he wasn't letting on.

steve.henson@latimes.com

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