In 1945, Tommy Lasorda, then a teenager, signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies making $100 a month.
“I thought that was all the money in the world,” the Dodgers legend said on Ferrall on the Bench. “From then on, it was just doing the best you can and trying to make it to the major leagues.”
Lasorda, of course, did that and more in his 65 years in baseball. He won two World Series as a manager, but what he did in 1955 might have been his most special accomplishment on the diamond. He won the World Series with Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Zimmer and other Brooklyn greats.
“You know something?” Lasorda asked. “I was just talking to (a lady) and she said, ‘Boy, you really had such a great life.’ And I said, ‘Yes. That’s the way it’s been. I have to say humbly it couldn’t have been any better.”
Lasorda’s most memorable moment as a manager also involves a World Series – in 1988, when Kirk Gibson hit a walk-off home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 to give the Dodgers a 5-4 win. Los Angeles won the series in five.
“I’ve seen a lot of home runs of great importance, but never did I see one that had the drama attached to it like this guy,” Lasorda said. “He couldn’t do anything. He wasn’t even in uniform when the game started. He was in the training room and he was in there for six, seven innings, and then all of a sudden he comes out and he says to me, ‘I think I can hit for you.’ I said, ‘Okay, fine.’ So we got the opportunity to put him in. It had to be with two outs because if you hit him with one out and there’s a man on, that’s a cinch double play. (But) he came through and he hit that remarkable home run.”
That story is the essence of Lasorda. Name a baseball great, especially a Dodger, and Lasorda will tell you everything you want to know. Take Clayton Kershaw, for example. Does he remind Lasorda of Koufax?
“Oh sure,” Lasorda said. “The way he dominated hitters, yeah. That’s the relationship, I think. And (Kershaw has) got a great arm. He’s got great, outstanding control, and he’s got a lot of heart. He’s a bulldog on the mound. That really helps him.”
What about Fernando Valenzuela, who in 1981 was named the NL Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young winner? How does he compare to Kershaw?
“I think they’re different type of pitchers,” Lasorda said. “(Kershaw has) got a fastball, a curveball, slider. Fernando relied heavily on his best pitch, which was a screwball. So they’re different type pitchers. Both of them were outstanding. Fernando, he started right off the bat when I first gave him a start. He opened the season for us and he just went right on through the year with a tremendous year for a rookie.”
Valenzuela, who went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and 180 strikeouts during that magical season, was also a practical jokester.
“He was fun,” Lasorda said. “He was really a lot of fun. He would be a lot of fun in the clubhouse and in the dugout. He’d have a little string, a rope, and he’d lasso you as you walked by. He thought that was the greatest thing in the world. When he wasn’t pitching, he was really funny – and then when he pitched, he wasn’t funny on that mound.”
Lasorda, as you would expect, made countless lifelong friends in baseball, including Joe Torre, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past weekend.
“Joe and I go way back – way back,” Lasorda said. “When he was a player, we were friends then. Then he became a manager with the Mets (in 1977), and we still remained good friends. Throughout our lives, both of us – I’ve known his family. It’s been a great, great relationship.”
Lasorda can say the same about fellow octogenarian Vin Scully, who announced this week that he will return to the broadcast booth for his 66th season next year.
“We both have the same amount of time. We both completed 65 years,” Lasorda said. “Vinny, like I told him, he looks good. He looks young. I said try managing 20 years and then see what you would look like.”
Lasorda, however, wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I wasn’t cut out to be a business man,” he said. “I was cut out to be in baseball – and that’s what I’ve done for the last 65 years.”