Legendary manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and good friend of the Italian Tribune, Tommy Lasorda, passed away at the age of 93 on January 7 of a heart attack. He had become increasing frail in recent months, but his passion for the Dodgers never wavered – a team he has been associated with since they were in Brooklyn. It was in this past fall that the man who always claimed he bled Dodger blue, said that he had one last mission to accomplish. He was granted that moment in October, when the Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series – their first championship since he guided had them to the title 32 years previously.
Lasorda, who in 20 years as the Dodgers’ manager won two World Series championships, four National League pennants and eight division titles, was one of the few remaining links to the club’s Brooklyn roots. He had spent 71 seasons with the Dodgers and was a vibrant and enthusiastic presence throughout those many decades.
A friend to both the late Ace Alagna, former Publisher of the Italian Tribune and current Publisher, Buddy Fortunato, Lasorda was the Paper’s Columbus Day Parade Grand Marshal in 1989. As a longtime subscriber of the Tribune, Tommy wrote to Buddy stating “I enjoy reading the paper very much. It is always very informative and also serves as a great way of keeping in touch with our heritage. We Italians are so proud of the work you have done with the paper and I wish you nothing but continued success. In recent years, Lasorda had been in and out of the hospital in for heart, back and shoulder problems and was released from an Orange County hospital on January 5th, following an extended stay. He was at his Fullerton, California home when he suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest.
Thomas Charles Lasorda was born September 22, 1927, in the Italian American section of Norristown, Pa., outside Philadelphia. The second of Carmella and Sabatino Lasorda’s five sons, Tommy was pugnacious, but as much as he loved fisticuffs, he loved baseball even more. He also loved his Italian heritage. His father Sabatino Lasorda came to American from the region of Abruzzo in Italy. Tommy spoke proudly of his father. “He came here because his brothers were here and he couldn’t get any work over there.”
Sabatino Lasorda found a job driving a truck for a local rock quarry. Tommy might have ended up working at the quarry as well had he not possessed a wicked curveball. Although Sabatino was not too excited about having his son’s career path in baseball, he preferred it over young Tommy’s first choice of boxing. Lasorda’s lust for life was fueled by his father’s optimism “My father used to come home from the quarry with his feet frostbitten. We, the children, would rub them to warm them up while he was telling us that we were living in the greatest country in the world. I’d say, ‘But your feet are frozen.’ And he’d say, ‘What are frozen feet compared to all the happiness we’ve got?'” Tommy once reminisced.
He was signed by the Phillies out of Norristown High before the 1945 season. He spent two years in the military and was chosen by the Dodgers in the 1948 minor league draft. Although he thrived in the minors, once recording 25 strikeouts in a Class C game, he couldn’t crack the Dodgers’ strong pitching staff. He made his major league debut on August 5, 1954, appearing in four games that season and four the next. Unfortunately, his most noteworthy feat was tying a record by unleashing three wild pitches in a single inning.
He was purchased by the Athletics in March 1956 and pitched in the minors until 1960. Lasorda became a scout for the Dodgers in 1961, then in 1965 became a manager in the Dodgers’ minor league system. In Pocatello, Idaho, and Ogden, Utah, he sold tickets, took tickets and cooked team meals. He would squirt opposing fans with water guns and do anything he could to ignite his team’s spirit.
Although Lasorda’s antics were entertaining, he backed them with solid results and was promoted to manage at the triple-A level in 1969. His minor league teams won five pennants in seven seasons and 75 players he managed made it to the major leagues.
In 1973, Tommy became the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He rejected a number of offers from other teams to manage while waiting for long-time Dodger’s manager, Walter Alston to retire, which occurred at the end of 1976. He then brought a whole new philosophy of managing to the team. “I wanted my players to be proud of the organization and I wanted them to be proud of the uniform they were wearing,” said Lasorda. “I used to tell them say thank you to the fans. If it weren’t for those people, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. You have to show your appreciation.”
He won National League pennants in his first two full seasons, 1977 and 1978. Both years, the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees. They returned to the World Series in the strike-torn 1981 season. After losing the first two games of the World Series to the Yankees, they swept the last four, winning the franchise’s fifth championship and first since 1965.
Said Ned Colletti, a former Dodgers general manager: “He could make you laugh. He could motivate you. He could bring you confidence. He could question something to get you to think differently. And he could love you. And he could do all of that in about five minutes. There’s only one of him. There’s only one.”
A friend to presidents and Little Leaguers, a devout Catholic with a talent for rapid-fire expletives, Lasorda was a self-promoter who tirelessly raised funds for convents and disaster victims through banquets and speeches. His legacy spanned several eras in baseball and achieved near-mythical status among loyal Dodger fans.
Despite his 1,599 victories and the Dodgers’ World Series titles in 1981 and 1988, Lasorda never sought to be acknowledged as a great innovator of the sport. What he possessed was an unerring gut sense of how to manage players. He was a great motivator and through seven decades as a player, scout, coach, manager and advisor, he remained an unabashed cheerleader for the Dodgers.
“No one knows how good a manager he is – it’s an imprecise science – but he was good enough to get in four World Series and he was the best there ever was at taking a bunch of moderately talented kids out of the minor leagues and making them think they were the 1927 Yankees,” wrote L.A. Times columnist Jim Murray in 1990. “No one has yet been able to figure to this day how he got the 1988 team in the World Series, never mind winning it in five games.”
Upon hearing of Tommy passing, his dear friend Bobby Valentine said “words cannot express my feelings. A friend and mentor for 52 years is no longer with us. Tommy no one will ever fill the void you left. Thank you for everything.”
Regarded by many as baseball’s most popular ambassador, Tommy Lasorda will be sorely missed by everyone who loves baseball. He is survived by Jo, his wife of 70 years, daughter Laura and a granddaughter, Emily Tess Goldberg.
It was in Pennsylvania, where Tommy grew up with Vince Piazza, father of current Team Italy manager Mike Piazza. Their kindred friendship blossomed over the years, so much so that Lasorda was asked to become godfather to Mike’s younger brother Tommy. When the 1988 MLB Draft approached and no one seemed to take notice of first baseman Mike Piazza, Vince Piazza asked Lasorda to draft his son. The Dodgers drafted Piazza in the 62nd round as a courtesy. When Mike Piazza was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, the 12-time MLB All-Star thanked the Dodger manager for believing in him. “Tommy Lasorda was always in my corner,” Piazza said. “He believed when he watched me hit at the young age of 14 that I could play major league baseball.”
Lasorda paid tribute to his Italian heritage by volunteering to conduct a baseball clinic abroad in the early eighties. He recalled, “In ’81 or ’82, the head of the Italian federation called me and asked what it would cost them to get the manager of the Dodgers to come over to Rome and talk to their coaches and managers and give clinics, I said: ‘Let me tell you something. Italy gave me the greatest gift that any man ever could receive. Italy gave me my father, Sabatino. I want to give something back to Italy, so you don’t pay me 10 cents.’ The guy couldn’t talk for two minutes…”
While in Italy, Tommy Lasorda was heralded in a parade in the birthplace of his father and the local baseball team was named after him in his honor.
Lasorda was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Dodgers later retired his uniform number, 2. Four years after he retired as a major league manager, he guided the lightly regarded U.S. Olympic baseball team to a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. Tommy retained the title of special advisor to the Dodgers’ chairman and his last public appearance was at Game 6 of the 2020 World Series in Arlington, Texas, where he saw the team he guided for so many years finally win another title.