Tommy Lasorda loved baseball more than anything else.
If it was somehow possible, he loved the Dodgers even more.
Lasorda lived his life wrapped up in Dodger Blue, and when he took his last breath Thursday night at the age of 93, I guess he was still sure of one thing.
“If you do not love the Dodgers,” Lasorda said, “there’s a good chance you might not get into heaven.”
Under this set of qualifications, Lasorda is already there. No need to present his credentials at Pearly Gates, even though he did not show up in his shiny white uniform with the Dodgers scrawled in blue in front and a large No. 2 on the back.
He lived long enough to see the Dodgers break the drought in life and win the team’s first world series since he, Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser gave them the most unlikely 32 years earlier. His last wish was for the Dodgers to finally win again, and although he was frail, he traveled to Texas in October to see it happen.
Yet, even in death, there is one wish left.
“I want my wife to put Dodger’s schedule on my tombstone,” Lasorda often said. “When people are in the cemetery visiting their loved ones, they will say, ‘Let’s go to Lasorda’s grave and see if the Dodgers play today. “”
Fans will have to wait a few months to do so, but Lasorda’s tombstone is a popular gathering place before games. He was a true Dodger royalty and along with Vin Scully one of the last remaining bridges between Ebbets Field and Dodger Stadium.
Now he is gone, even when Scully mourns his wife’s death earlier this week.
“There will never be anyone like Tommy Lasorda,” said Steve Brener, PR director of the Dodgers during Lasorda’s reign. “He was like a second father to me. ”
If the goal eventually a man can be found in the number of stories told about him, Lasorda lived a life well beyond his 93 years.
He fought Phillie Phanatic on the field after the mascot dared to disgrace his beloved Dodgers, and exchanged blows with the hated Giants at Candlestick Park. He won a World Series with a ragtag team that probably did not even deserve to join, and then Gibson called out of the clubhouse to help him win a second.
Occasionally, he engaged in clubhouse stays, indulged in lasagna in his office with Frank Sinatra, and gave his opinion to anyone who asked – and even to those who did not. The tapes from his postgame rants about Kurt Bevacqua and Dave Kingman are underground classics that will live in baseball lore forever.
So, Tommy, what did you think of Kingman beating three home runs against the Dodgers?
Lasorda spent 71 seasons with the Dodgers, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, from pitcher to manager to the last 14 years of his life, special adviser.
Brener, who spoke on the phone with Lasorda’s wife, Jo, on Thursday before his fatal heart attack, remembered him as both a motivating master and a masterful promoter who enjoyed the celebrity scene around him. The Hollywood elite loved him back and made their way to Lasorda’s clubhouse office at Dodger Stadium, where there was always plenty of food to laugh with.
Sinatra was a friend and promised Lasorda that he would sing the national anthem on the opening day if he got the Dodger leadership job. Sure enough, Sinatra was at home delivering the tune when the Dodgers opened in 1977.
“No one needs to tell Frank Sinatra that he’s a good singer, and no one needs to tell me I’m a good manager,” Lasorda said.
But it wasn’t just about winning games and hanging out with Sinatra, Dean Martin and Don Rickles. Lasorda had time for everyone – even if someone had to declare loyalty to the Dodgers first.
Brener remembered going to a hospital in San Francisco with Lasorda, who had received a letter from a family whose son was in a coma.
– The parents are there, and Tommy goes in and starts motivating the kid and asked him to wake up and that he should be the bat boy for the Dodgers, Brener said. “Well, this boy came out of a coma and the following year Tommy introduced me to the boy at Candlestick Park and said that this is the boy I talked to in the hospital. The boy came back and was our batboy. It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen. ”
If the stories are legendary, so was the leader. He was faithful to his team, and always true to himself, even if he did not easily fool – and Giants fans – easily.
Still, even those who did not see things Blue will agree with this: For 71 years, baseball was a better game because Tommy Lasorda was in it.