Say What? Driving Lessons with Dodgers' Legend Tommy Lasorda
Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was known for his fiery personality, candid opinions and a winning brand. Often referred to as “The Godfather,” Lasorda is beloved in Los Angeles and throughout the game of baseball.
Throughout the years Lasorda has provided the sport with a number of unforgettable moments and token phrases, endearing him to baseball fans everywhere. One of my favorite Lasorda quotes is quite simple, but sometimes that’s the best recipe for success.
“Baseball is like driving,” said Lasorda. “It’s the one who gets home safely that counts.”
Was it this “keep it simple approach” that enabled Lasorda to enjoy so much success on and off the field?
Lasorda “made it home” safe plenty of times as the Dodgers’ manager; however, that wasn’t the case in his playing career. In three underwhelming seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics, Lasorda pitched in 26 games, posted a 6.48 ERA, a 1.869 WHIP, and compiled a career record of 0-6. Suffice to say, if Lasorda didn't make his mark as manager - he wouldn’t be revered the way he is today.
The Norristown, Pennsylvania native joined the Dodgers’ coaching staff in 1966 as the manager of the Pocatello Chiefs in the rookie leagues. He continued to coach in the minor leagues until 1973 - a run that was highlighted by three Pioneer League titles from 1966-68 with the Ogden Dodgers and a championship with the AAA Albuquerque Dukes in 1972.
Lasorda parlayed his minor league coaching success into an opportunity to serve as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-base coach on Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston’s staff. Although Lasorda received opportunities to manage elsewhere, he served as third-base coach for the Dodgers for the better part of four seasons, before taking over the managerial duties when Alston retired on September 29, 1976.
It didn’t take long for Lasorda to experience success as a Major League manager, he led the Dodgers to the National League Pennant in his first two seasons - 1977 and 1978. However, both times the Dodges lost the World Series in six-games to the New York Yankees.
The Dodgers eventually broke through with a World Series title in the 1981 season, behind Lasorda’s leadership and the brilliant pitching of rookie starter Fernando Valenzuela, besting their nemesis, the New York Yankees, in the Fall Classic.
Lasorda led the Dodgers to a second title in 1988, as the underdog Dodgers defeated the Oakland Athletics in five games. The footage of Lasorda running onto the field at Dodger Stadium after Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series is one of the iconic moments in baseball history.
When Lasorda retired from his managerial position with the Dodgers’ following the 1996 season, he had compiled quite the resume: 1,599 career wins, a .526 winning percentage, four National League appearances, two World Series titles - and 43 career ejections. The achievements were impressive enough that the Veteran’s Committee elected Lasorda into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 - his first year of eligibility.
While most individuals would invest in a quality La-Z-Boy and put their feet up after a career that spanned six decades, including stints in the United States Army, a professional playing career and a professional coaching career - Lasorda continued to work. “The Godfather” became an ambassador for the game of baseball after his retirement, coaching the U.S. Olympic team in 2000 and playing a significant role in promoting the sport in the Dominican Republic and Japan.
With the death of Red Schoendeinst on June 6, 2018, Lasorda is the oldest living MLB Hall of Famer. He remains a fixture at Dodgers’ games, making his presence felt at Chavez Ravine every summer. The spirit of the 92-year old was on full display when the Dodgers clinched the NL West division title in 2018 - Lasorda accompanied the team in their clubhouse celebration.
Lasorda has been a great ambassador for the game of baseball and is beloved by fans in Los Angeles and throughout the world. Let’s enjoy “The Godfather” as long as we can and embrace his words of wisdom.