Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Tag: Tommy Lasorda (Page 1 of 4)

Would you have fired Tommy Lasorda before the 1981 season?

Beginning his much-sought managing career in 1977, Tommy Lasorda won two National League West titles and two National League Championship Series in his first two seasons as Dodger manager.

The team fell both times in the World Series to the Yankees. In 1978, the Dodgers lost their final four games in a row, and were wiped out by a combined 19-4 score in the final two.

The 1979 Dodgers were a disaster — in last place at the All-Star break before rallying to finish third in the division, but still with their worst record in more than a decade.

The 1980 Dodgers were a competitive team in a thrilling division race, but on the brink of completing an historic comeback, dissolved in a 7-1 defeat that makes Game 7 of the 2017 World Series look ultra-close.

So after four years at the helm, the 53-year-old Lasorda averaged 91 wins per season, with two division titles, while extending the Dodgers’ drought without winning a World Series to 15 years, the longest gap in Los Angeles history.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that if social media had existed back in October 1980, the cries for Lasorda’s head would have been deafening. I can still hear faint echoes from talk radio.

So — and this is a sincere question — should Lasorda have been fired before the 1981 season?

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Emotional first-pitch salute to Vin Scully opens 2016 season at Dodger Stadium

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By Jon Weisman

In a breathtaking experience that traversed Dodger history from Don Newcombe to Clayton Kershaw, Vin Scully received an emotional tribute before the first pitch of his final Opening Day at Dodger Stadium as the team’s broadcaster.

Al Michaels, who was considered by some a possible successor to Scully four decades ago, hosted the tribute that mixed video (including messages from Henry Aaron and Kirk Gibson) with live presentations.

The roll call of Dodgers that took the field went as follows: Newcombe, Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, Al Downing, Rick Monday, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Tommy Lasorda and Kershaw, with Magic Johnson and Peter O’Malley then escorting Scully on to the hallowed stadium grass, before an enormous standing ovation from the crowd.

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Top series by Jon SooHoo, bottom by Juan Ocampo

A baseball autographed by every participant was then passed down the line to Scully, who truly looked moved by the moment and said afterward he was “overwhelmed.”

Watching him from ground level, as the scoreboard camera circled around him for its closeup, I never felt more how much of a living legend we were privileged to know, and to call our own.

 

Tommy Lasorda’s unforgettable moments with Reagans, Carters

Nancy

Nancy and Ronald Reagan watch Tommy Lasorda speak at the White House following the 1988 World Series. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

One time, Tommy Lasorda recalled today, Ronald and Nancy Reagan paid a visit to Dodger Stadium. It wasn’t their first time there, nor their last. But on this particular day, Mrs. Reagan told Lasorda that she wanted to see the clubhouse.

“She said, ‘Where’s the workout room?'” Lasorda said. “And I took her to the workout room, and we had a machine (she wanted to try). So Charlie Strasser, the trainer, and I, we put her on this thing, and she did it a little bit, and then we had to lift her off. I said, ‘Charlie, if only we had someone taking a picture of her on this thing,’ but there was no one around to take a picture. (But) she worked out with it. She thought it was great. We lifted her up to get on it, and we lifted her off to get off it.”

Speaking one day after the former first lady passed away at the age of 94, Lasorda had several presidential memories to share, especially of the Reagans, whom he was particularly close to.

They met at Frank Sinatra’s house when Ronald Reagan was governor of California, and on the November 1984 night that he was elected to his second term, Lasorda and his wife Jo were part of the celebration.

“(They) and my wife and I were dancing,” Lasorda said. “We stopped on the dance floor and talked to each other, because he wanted to make sure I was enjoying myself and was happy and everything else. He was proud of me.

“I’ve got this one letter that I really treasure that he wrote to me — how proud he was of me and what I accomplished and everything like that. So we were good friends, and I was proud of them both. She was a wonderful, sweet lady. I tell you, I really enjoyed being around her, really enjoyed meeting her and everything like that. She was great. And they loved each other real dearly.”

Lasorda said Nancy sent a birthday card to him every year until last year, when she had fallen ill.

reagans_tommy_fred

Tommy Lasorda, Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan and Fred Claire

Perhaps the most remarkable night came in 1980, before Reagan’s first term as president, the year he challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter. That day, Lasorda had a doubleheader — a speech in Iowa, followed by another in Chicago for the Italian-American Hall of Fame (which in 1989 would induct Lasorda himself).

Getting out of the hotel elevator in Chicago, there was a big crowd, and Lasorda was turning back when the center of the crowd spoke up.

reagan_tommy3“Reagan saw me — ‘Hey Tommy, how are you? Come over and give me a big hug!'” Lasorda remembered. “I said, ‘I got a good feeling you’re gonna win big.’ He said, ‘If I don’t, can you get me a job as an announcer?’

Reagan, of course, began his career after college in 1932 as a sports announcer, during which time he would re-create baseball games from telegraph reports.

“And then that night,” Lasorda continued, “at the big dinner at the Italian-American Hall of Fame, this guy was performing, singing, and all of a sudden somebody walks on the stage and stops the guy singing and takes the microphone away from him. There’s a thousand people in there — what’s going on? The guy says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.’ It was President Carter — he was there.

“So he got up and congratulated the honorees, and he said, ‘Where’s Tommy Lasorda?’ I was in the table right in front of him, and I raised my hand, and I said, ‘Here, Mr. President.’ He said, ‘Come up here — I want to talk to you up on the stage.’ So I go up on the stage, and he said, ‘When I was coming here, my mother said if I saw you, I have to give you a hug. And he gave me a hug.

“So I was hugged that day by the guy who was running for the presidency, and that night the president hugged me. Pretty unusual, huh?”

If you’re wondering why Carter singled Lasorda out for special treatment, it’s because the Dodger manager had also become close with the president’s mother, Lillian — another Dodger guest from time to time, at Dodger Stadium and elsewhere.

Lasorda Lillian

Tommy Lasorda introduces Lillian Carter to Charlie Hough before Game 4 of the 1977 World Series.

“One day, we’re playing in Atlanta, and Lillian and the president, they were with (Braves owner Ted) Turner. So those Secret Service guys come over — they knew me — and they said, ‘Hey, Tommy. Miss Lillian wants to see you. I walked across the field, and she was there with the president and Ted and everything. She gave me a hug, and she whispered in my ear, ‘I tell you right now, I’m pulling for you today.'”

For Dodger fans, perhaps the most meaningful link between the Dodgers, Lasorda and Nancy Reagan is this. On the most beloved night at Dodger Stadium in at least the past 50 years, the night of Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, it was Nancy Reagan who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Lasorda takes credit for recommending her appearance, which she used to promote her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, with an assist from Vin Scully.

Bridges to history: Last links to retired numbers

Reese Fairly

By Jon Weisman

With the Dodgers celebrating their 10 retired numbers in a pin series this year, I was curious who was the last active player to take the field with each of these legends. Here’s what I found:

1 Pee Wee Reese
Ron Fairly, who was 19 when making his debut with the 40-year-old Reese as a teammate on the 1958 “Welcome to Los Angeles” Dodgers, was 40 himself when he played his last big-league game in 1978. Years between Reese’s first game and Fairly’s last: 38

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A special first pitch before NLDS Game 1

Ella

A really wonderful moment is going to take place before the start of the National League Division Series on Friday. From the Dodgers’ public relations department:

Four-year-old Ella Mason Annear, who has battled cancer for the past two years, and Hall of Fame Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda have been named to throw out the honorary first pitch for games one and two on the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.

Annear, who also goes by “Ella The Great”, is the daughter of the Dodgers’ vice-president of merchandising and retail Allister Annear and his wife, Amanda.  She will do the honors on Friday night prior to the 6:45 p.m. game.

Ella was diagnosed with Heptoblastoma and a lung tumor seven months ago.  After surgery on April 20 and seven rounds of chemotherapy, the youngster was cleared of cancer and pronounced NED (no visible disease).  Ella has a website, where fans can check her journey–http://ella-the-great.tumblr.com.

Lasorda will get the call on Saturday prior to the 6:05 p.m. start of game two.  The Hall of Fame skipper, who is the special advisor to the chairman, is baseball’s greatest ambassador.  Lasorda is currently in his 66th season in the Dodger organization.  He managed the club for 20 seasons before retiring to the front office in 1996.  Lasorda won two world championships, four National League pennants and eight division titles.  He recently celebrated his 88th birthday.

— Jon Weisman

Tommy Lasorda earns Jim Murray Foundation honor

Lasorda Murray

By Jon Weisman

Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda will receive the Jim Murray Memorial Foundationʼs “Great Ones” trophy, a bronze bust of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jim Murray.

Lasorda is being honored for more than 60 years of meritorious service in the Dodger organization. Previous winners include Arnold Palmer, Joe Namath, Luc Robitaille, Bobby Rahal, Chris McCarron, Duke Snider, Sugar Ray Leonard and Rick Reilly.

“The Great Ones Award is our Stanley Cup. Each year we add a new name to it for that individualʼs contribution to his sport,” said Bill McCoy, president of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation. “Tommy Lasorda and Jim Murray were friends for many years. It seems fitting we honored both their legacies with this award.”

The JMMF was established by Linda Murray Hofmans in 1999 following the passing of the longtime Times columnist. The foundation awards journalism scholarships to the nation’s top college journalists through a national essay competition. To date, the JMMF has awarded 99 scholarships totaling over $500,000.

Before Hershiser and Gibson in ’88, Tim Leary nearly stole the show

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Tim Leary is congratulated by Manny Mota after his walkoff hit.

By Jon Weisman

Chances are, if you remember Tim Leary’s days as a pitcher for the Dodgers, you remember his hit.

On this day in 1988, Leary came off the bench for the Dodgers and delivered an 11th-inning walkoff single up the middle for a 2-1 victory over the Giants.

And chances are that if you’ve forgotten anything about Tim Leary, it’s that on this day in 1988, Leary was a better bet for the National League Cy Young Award than Orel Hershiser.

The day before his pinch-hit, Leary had gone 8 1/3 innings in a 7-3 victory over San Francisco that left his ERA at 2.37.  The day after Leary’s pinch-hit, Hershiser was knocked out after only two innings, allowing eight runs (five earned). Hershiser’s ERA went all the way up to 3.06.

And so, in what was shaping up to be a wonderful season for Leary, his trip to the plate on August 13, 1988 was magical — even if the circumstances leading up to it were a bit bizarre.

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Jackie Robinson explains how the Dodgers missed out on Willie Mays

Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers (L) congratulates New York Giant Willie Mays, after the Giants beat the Dodgers 7 to 1, capturing the 1954 National League pennant.  (American Academy of Achievement)

Jackie Robinson congratulates Willie Mays after the Giants clinched the 1954 National League pennant with a 7-1 victory over the Dodgers on September 20. (American Academy of Achievement)

By Jon Weisman

It’s often been told how the Dodgers let Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente slip through their grasp, but while it’s no secret, the tale of how Willie Mays could have been a Dodger is less well known. Here’s Jackie Robinson’s version, as written by Frank Finch in the June 6, 1965 edition of the Times:

Jackie Robinson, here to telecast the game for ABC, was telling friends about the time he first was given a “chance” to break the color barrier in baseball. “Sam Jethroe and I worked out with the Boston Red Sox in 1945 while we were with the Kansas City Monarchs. They took our names and phone numbers, but we never heard from them. I signed with Mr. (Branch) Rickey later that year.”

Jackie says the Dodgers blew a chance to land Willie Mays when he was a 16-year-old phenom with the Birmingham Black Barons. “The Dodger players were much impressed with Mays when we played an exhibition game with the Barons,” said Jackie. “The front office in Brooklyn was contracted, but Wid Mathews, Mr. Rickey’s assistant, turned down Willie because Wid said he couldn’t hit a curve ball.”

More is written about Matthews at the SABR Baseball Biography Project. The game against Mays would have taken place shortly after Robinson broke in with the Dodgers in 1947. Mays, of course, broke in with the Giants in 1951.

Below, here’s a snapshot of Mays with Tommy Lasorda while the pair were playing in Cuba.

Tommy and Willie Mays in Cuba

Approximate translation:

Two new “Scorpions”

Willie Mays, outfielder who has brought the “Almendares” (old Cuban League team that represented the Almendares district of Habana) to replace Williams marching ahead. He appears with another defensive player(?) in the blue jersey, Tom Lasorda, who was left of the payroll of Marianao (another Cuban baseball team that represented the Marianao district in Habana) despite that he has four wins and two losses. His lack of control was the reason for his release from the Marianao team. In 51 2/3 innings, he’s given up 54 walks.

Remembering ’65: Memorial Day time capsule

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By Jon Weisman

The 1965 Dodgers spent the last 28 days of May in first place — including Memorial Day, May 31, when 50,997 at Dodger Stadium saw the Dodgers and Reds split a doubleheader — but it was hardly an uneventful month. Here’s a word album of what was happening 50 years ago …

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Derrel Thomas, true emergency catcher extraordinaire

Though he caught only six games in a 15-year career, Derrel Thomas embraces the opportunity to go behind the plate, such as at the Dodgers' Old-Timers Game on May 16. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Though he caught in only six games of a 15-season MLB career, Derrel Thomas embraces the opportunity to go behind the plate, such as at the Dodgers’ Old-Timers Game on May 16. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

Though it’s doubtful he’ll ever be called upon for this, especially with Austin Barnes on his way to Los Angeles, Kiké Hernandez has become the Dodgers’ emergency catcher. Just in case, Hernandez caught a bullpen session from Brett Anderson this afternoon.

The last non-catcher the Dodgers have really needed to use behind the plate was Derrel Thomas in 1980. This has always been one of my favorite Dodger stories, not only because it was so unlikely for even a proven utility player like Thomas to go behind the plate, but because it wasn’t a one-time thing.

With Steve Yeager nursing an infected elbow and Triple-A starting catcher Mike Scioscia recovering from a broken finger, Joe Ferguson had to leave in the fourth inning of an April 15, 1980 game at San Diego with a back problem. Thomas went behind the plate for the first time in a game at any level — with knuckleballer Charlie Hough on the mound, no less — and stayed there for the next 31 innings.

“He weighs 150 pounds,” wrote Mike Littwin of the Times that week. “A catcher’s gear weighs almost that much.”

Using Yeager’s glove, Thomas was behind the plate for 137 batters and had four passed balls. No one tried to steal against him on April 15 or April 16, but on April 17, with the slow delivery of Don Sutton 60-and-a-half feet away, Houston stole seven bases, two shy of the Dodger record at the time by a Dodger opponent. However, Thomas did throw out Enos Cabell trying to steal second in the sixth inning, for the only caught stealing of Thomas’ backstop career.

Despite his objective struggles behind the plate, the Dodgers adored Thomas’ effort.

“Show me another guy who could do what he did today,” Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda told Littwin. “I’ve been in baseball nearly all my life, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m so grateful to him. He’s a great athlete, but more than that, he’s courageous.”

Said Yeager: “You have to handle pitchers and you have to keep the ball in front of you. I told Derrel a couple of things last night and he remembered. He’s a fast learner, and he’s got a lot of guts. All things considered, he did a great job back there. Hey, I weigh 215 pounds. When’s the last time you saw a 150-pound catcher?”

Here’s more from Littwin:

As Thomas, his uniform caked with dirt, sweat dripping from his brow, limped into the clubhouse, someone asked him how he felt. “I feel, he said, like I should be dead.”

His legs might have been. At that point, he couldn’t have jumped over a chalk baseline.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” he said. “I was too nervous. There are so many things to remember. When they got those guys on base, I just tried to stay relaxed and remember what Yang (Yeager) had told me to do.

“I didn’t care if they stole 30 bases, as long as we won.”

The Dodgers won two of Thomas’ three starts at catcher. Yeager, who had been sidelined since April 13, returned to the starting lineup April 19. Scioscia would then be called up April 20 to make his Major League debut.

After catching the ninth inning of a 2-0, one-hit loss to J.R. Richard of the Astros on April 19 (Yeager had gone out for a pinch-hitter), the Dodgers never needed to use Thomas behind the plate again. But it wasn’t the last time the Dodgers saw him with the tools of ignorance.

In the last season of his 15-year Major League career, as a 34-year-old with Philadelphia, Thomas entered the game behind the plate after Phillies catcher Ozzie Virgil left in the top of the eighth inning of an August 21, 1985 game against visiting Los Angeles with a bruised wrist. In the bottom of that same inning, Thomas hit a three-run homer off Fernando Valenzuela — the 43rd and final home run of Thomas’ big-league career.

It also meant that after previously homering as a first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder, right fielder and pinch-hitter, Derrel Thomas had also hit one out as, yes, a catcher.

Billy Crystal’s long connection to the Dodgers

Billy Crystal

Actor/comedian Billy Crystal, whose new series “The Comedians” premieres Thursday on FX, is one of baseball’s most famous fans. And though his New York roots run deep, his connection with the Dodgers is longstanding. Read more in this excerpt from the April issue of Dodger Insider magazine. (Click the image to enlarge.)

— Jon Weisman

Video: Tommy Lasorda’s 2015 motivational


Tommy Lasorda has still got it. Here’s his inspirational speech to the Dodgers at Spring Training (via SportsNetLA’s Backstage Dodgers).

— Jon Weisman

Dodger Insider magazine — April 2015 edition

April 2015 magazine cover image

Lighting spread

By Jon Weisman

How do you write the pitcher who has been disssected from seemingly every conceivable angle? For the 2015 regular-season debut of Dodger Insider magazine, our answer was to step out of the way and let the true experts take the lead.

For the April 2015 issue, we asked Vin Scully, Rick Honeycutt, Orel Hershiser and A.J. Ellis for bylined pieces on what, in their minds, makes Kershaw who he is. Here’s how it begins.

Vin segment

The stories are all insightful, with Ellis’ being particularly poignant and affecting. We’ve also transcribed Kershaw’s memorable awards-acceptance speech from January, which is only the more remarkable when you see it laid out in front of you.

April featuresBeyond the Kershaw series, this issue is chock full of features, including but not limited to what you see at right. Here are some more examples:

  • Personally Speaking: Yasmani Grandal primed to prove he’s worth the price.
  • Stadium Ways: For a few moments every spring, Dodger players make screen magic.
  • Broadcast News: Jaime and Jorge Jarrin form a dream team in ’15.
  • Myth and Reality: Even champions usually lack an ideal leadoff man.

Plus an even more expanded History Corner, our usual collection of photos and games, and much more …

The April issue of Dodger Insider is available to purchase in person at the Top of the Park gift shop at Dodger Stadium now and will be at all Dodger team stores starting with Saturday’s Freeway Series game against the Angels.

To subscribe to Dodger Insider, visit dodgers.com/magazine. Note: Subscriptions received through April 13 will begin with the May issue. Subscribe by April 30, and receive a free copy of the 2015 Dodger Yearbook.

In case you missed it: Kershaw sails, Gaudin ails

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By Jon Weisman

In his first start since his dental denting last week, Clayton Kershaw gave up one run in the first inning today, then delivered five shutout innings, striking out eight, in the Dodgers’ 9-6 victory over the White Sox.

Jose Abreu went 3 for 3 against Kershaw. The rest of the White Sox were 1 for 19 with a walk.

Yasmani Grandal was behind the plate today for Kershaw. “I’ve been watching his games and have a better feel for what he wants to do in certain counts, when to double-up and just see how he’s feeling out there,” Grandal told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. “The more I catch him, the better I’ll get.”

Said Kershaw: “Better today. We were ahead in the counts more. I didn’t shake him off as much. It’s a learning process.”

Kershaw also sacrificed twice (once with two strikes) and had a two-out single.

After throwing 88 pitches today, Kershaw will scale back for his final Cactus League outing, scheduled on five days’ rest against Kansas City on Wednesday, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, before taking his Opening Day start on four days’ rest April 6.

The power-happy Dodgers delivered three more homers, including booming shots by Yasiel Puig and Kiké Hernandez and Jimmy Rollins’ first of the spring. Rollins also doubled and had four RBI, and threw out the quick Emilio Bonifacio today from the outfield grass.

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  • Chad Gaudin, who missed the 2014 season because of neck surgery, has had a recurrence of neck discomfort, according to Gurnick. Gaudin will have an MRI, the latest in a series following Brandon League (who will have a follow-up exam Friday from Dr. Neal ElAttrache), Erik Bedard and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
  • There was some pregame mischief today with Tommy Lasorda and a golf cart, writes Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles.
  • The Dodgers have sold their 3,000,000th ticket on their earliest date ever, the team has announced.
  • Don Mattingly, speaking to MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby about the concerns over low offense in baseball: “The commissioner (Rob Manfred) talked about banning shifts,” Mattingly said. “Why don’t we teach guys to hit? Go back to teaching hitters to use the whole field and keep the ball in the strike zone.”
  • It’s hard not to like Eric Stephen’s bullpen battle flowchart at True Blue L.A.
  • The Dodgers sit fourth in right field and 11th in left field on Fangraph’s positional power rankings.
  • If you can’t get enough overviews of the Dodgers’ top prospects, here’s Jim Callis of MLB.com with his latest.

Tommy Lasorda: Turn down for what?!

https://instagram.com/p/0T_zjBu8d6/

No other words needed.

— Jon Weisman

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