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Tom Lasorda's portrait is unveiled at national gallery

Dodgers legend is honored on his 82nd birthday for his contributions to U.S. culture through baseball and other work. His painting is one of 20,000 works of art on display depicting famous Americans.

September 23, 2009|Richard Simon

WASHINGTON — George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Tom Lasorda under the same roof?

It happened Tuesday as a portrait of the Dodgers' legend was unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Lasorda's 82nd birthday.

"This is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me," Lasorda said.

The portrait recognizes the contributions of Lasorda -- in his 60th year in the Dodgers' organization, he is perhaps baseball's most beloved goodwill ambassador -- to American culture and history.

While the gallery is famous for portraits of presidents, it is home to 20,000 works of art that include portrayals of other famous figures, including Marilyn Monroe and Casey Stengel. The collection is intended to recognize individuals "who have made significant contributions to the history, development and cultural life of the United States."

The portrait depicts Lasorda, in his now-retired No. 2 Dodgers jersey, leaning on a bat out on a baseball field. It was painted by New York artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, who did the official White House portraits of Presidents Ford and Reagan.

The Lasorda painting, measuring 60 inches by 50 inches, was put on display next to Andy Warhol's portrait of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and across from Los Angeles artist Shepard Fairey's iconic image of President Obama.

A sign next to the portrait reads: "Tommy Lasorda's six decades with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers establishes his claim that when he bleeds, he bleeds Dodger blue."

"The intent of the collection is to be representative of people who uniquely shaped the American experience," said Mallory Walker, chairman of the National Portrait Gallery Commission.

Brandon Fortune, curator of painting and sculpture, added that the gallery looked to "collect figures that have resonance with today's audience . . . someone who is popular with millions of Americans."

The unveiling, coming at the start of a three-day series between the Dodgers and Washington Nationals, was attended by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, Dodgers Chief Executive Jamie McCourt, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, former players, including Steve Garvey, and family members of Lasorda.

Also in attendance was Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Dodgers fan who met Lasorda in a USO trip last spring to Afghanistan and Iraq. While in the nation's capital, Lasorda planned to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"Tommy is larger than life," McCourt said. "Now, we're going to be reminded of it."

Noting that Lasorda's fame extended beyond baseball, McCourt recalled when she first met him, her reaction was: "It's the Slim-Fast guy."

Tuesday's honor was the latest for the one-time pitcher with an 0-4 major league record who was voted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1997, had an asteroid named after him in 2003 (Asteroid Lasorda) and was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the emperor of Japan in 2008.

Lasorda spent 20 years as the Dodgers' manager, leading the team to World Series championships in 1981 and 1988. He retired in 1996 after suffering a heart attack. He now serves as special advisor to Dodgers owner and Chairman Frank McCourt.

On Tuesday, Lasorda spoke about this rise from humble beginnings. "The soles on my shoes were so thin I could step on a coin and tell you whether it's heads or tails," he told the audience.

The gallery's collection includes a number of sports figures, including Dodgers greats Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Walter Alston.

"I've gotten a lot of honors," Lasorda said in an interview. "But nothing matches this except the Hall of Fame."

Kevin Knight, a 39-year-old bartender from Torrance, was among the fans visiting the gallery Tuesday.

"The portrait is beautiful," said Knight, wearing a Dodgers T-shirt. "It's wonderful to see him honored. . . . I'm so glad I made the trip."

Lasorda put it in his own perspective.

"Somebody asked me, 'What's next for you?' " Lasorda said. "I said, 'Heaven.' "

richard.simon@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Works of art

Some of the other baseball figures currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery:

Babe Ruth

Reggie Jackson

Mickey Mantle

Roger Maris

Juan Marichal

Carlton Fisk

Nolan Ryan

Casey Stengel

Billy Martin

Ty Cobb

Robin Roberts

Yogi Berra

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The Lasorda brothers

All five brothers served in the armed forces. Except for the Hall of Famer, four Lasorda boys operated Calle, a restaurant in Exton, Pa., for 30 years. The other brothers are:

Eddie, 83, Sunnyside, Pa.

Harry, 89, Audubon, Pa.

Morris, 79, Malvern, Pa.

Smokey, 76, Boca Raton, Fla.

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