Tommy Lasorda, combative baseball manager who won two World Series with the LA Dodgers – obituary

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Tommy Lasorda at his beloved Dodger Stadium in 1980 - George Rose/Getty Images
Tommy Lasorda at his beloved Dodger Stadium in 1980 - George Rose/Getty Images

Tommy Lasorda, who has died aged 93, loomed large in baseball history, one of the great characters in the game; he made few waves as a distinctly average pitcher, but as a motivator and man-manager he proved peerless, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles. “Cut my veins, and I bleed Dodger blue,” he once said.

He became famous for his four-letter-word tirades to journalists and match officials, but to his players he was a father figure who brought out the very best in them. He nurtured several generations of young stars – one of whom, the catcher Mike Scioscia, said: “He knows his talent. He knows his players. He’s the most competitive person I’ve met in my life.”

In the 1950s, during his time with the Kansas City A's - Bettmann
In the 1950s, during his time with the Kansas City A's - Bettmann

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born into an Italian family on September 22 1927 at Norristown, Pennsylvania; his baseball career began in 1945 with the Philadelphia Phillies, who farmed him out to the Concord Weavers in North Carolina.

Two years in the US Army followed, and he returned to baseball in 1948, the Phillies sending him out to the Schenectady Blue Jays of the Canadian–American League. In May 1948 he set a record in the professional game when he struck out 25 Amsterdam Rugmakers in a 15-inning game.

The following year he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but pitched only one game for them – from which he was removed at the end of his first inning after throwing three wild pitches (equalling the major-league record).

Lasorda applauds his players during a game in 1995 - JD Cuban/Allsport
Lasorda applauds his players during a game in 1995 - JD Cuban/Allsport

Stints followed at Kansas City Athletics, New York Yankees and Montreal Royals – and the Denver Bears, where he absorbed the lessons of the coach there, Ralph Houk, who, he recalled, “taught me that if you treat players like human beings, they will play like Superman. He taught me how a pat on a shoulder can be just as important as a kick in the butt.”

In 1960 he was taken on as a scout by the Dodgers, who by then had relocated to Los Angeles, and for the rest of the decade he learnt the coaching and management trade in the minor leagues and the Dominican Republic. He became known for his pugnacious personality, so much so that before every game his wife Jo would plead: “Please don’t start any fights.”

With the Dodgers' general manager Fred Claire, lifting the World Series trophy after beating Oakland Athletics in 1988 - Focus on Sport via Getty Images
With the Dodgers' general manager Fred Claire, lifting the World Series trophy after beating Oakland Athletics in 1988 - Focus on Sport via Getty Images

In 1973 he became third-base coach for the Dodgers, and as he had been marked out as successor to the storied manager Walter Alston he turned down offers for his services from several other clubs.

When Alston retired in 1976 Lasorda got his chance. There were two World Series defeats to the New York Yankees, in 1977 and 1978. But the Dodgers got their revenge in 1981, beating the Yankees 4-2 in the best-of-seven series; it was their first title for 16 years and only the fourth in their history.

In 1988 they took on Oakland Athletics, who were overwhelming favourites; but the Dodgers won in five games – thanks in part to a celebrated home run in Game 1 for Kirk Gibson, who could hardly walk but was trusted by his manager to deliver the goods.

Lasorda in 1990 after a win against San Francisco Giants - Otto Greule/ALLSPORT
Lasorda in 1990 after a win against San Francisco Giants - Otto Greule/ALLSPORT

Lasorda’s hero was Frank Sinatra, photos of whom decorated his office, and his own fame transcended baseball. He appeared as himself on a host of television shows, including Fantasy Island and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Following a heart attack – during which he had driven himself to hospital – he stepped down as manager in 1996, with a win-loss record of 1599-1439. In 1998 he became vice-president of the Dodgers, then two years later came out of retirement to lead the US to the Olympic Games in Sydney; in the final his team beat the favourites, Cuba.

Tommy Lasorda married, in 1950, Joan Miller. She survives him along with a son. Another son died in 1991.

Tommy Lasorda, born September 22 1927, died January 7 2021