Sports


Lasorda Still True-Blue Ex-Dodger Manager Heads Baseball Hall Of Fame Inductees

SUNDAY, AUG. 3, 1997

One day in spring training a few years ago, some writers arrived in Vero Beach, Fla., to discuss the Los Angeles Dodgers with the team’s resident cheerleader, manager Tom Lasorda.

Lasorda was shifting into oral overdrive, explaining how the Dodgers had assembled the finest young men in America. Just about the time he got to the part about mom and apple pie, utilityman Derrel Thomas wandered by and laughed.

“You guys better put on your galoshes,” Thomas warned. “It’s getting pretty deep over there.”

It usually does when Lasorda talks about his beloved Dodgers. This is a man genuinely in love with this team, his team.

Except for a short stopover in Kansas City that was like too many relief pitchers - brief and ineffective - Lasorda was a one-organization man. He was signed by the Dodgers as a lean left-handed pitcher when the franchise was in Brooklyn and he still works for the team 48 years later.

Today, Lasorda will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and it’s not for his 0-4 career pitching record. It is instead for managing the Dodgers to 1,599 victories, No. 13 on the all-time list, in 20 memorable seasons. It is for making it to four World Series, six League Championship Series and two division series. It is for managing 61 postseason games, second only to Casey Stengel’s 63. And it is for being one of baseball’s best ambassadors.

Also being inducted into the Hall are: 318-game winner Phil Niekro; second baseman Nellie Fox; and Negro Leagues slugger Willie Wells. The J.G. Taylor Spink award will go to longtime New York and Pittsburgh sportswriter Charley Feeney, and the Ford C. Frick Award will be presented to Jimmy Dudley, voice of the Cleveland Indians from 1948-67.

If Lasorda were a salesman, he’d win the incentive trip to Hawaii every year. He knew how to sell the Dodgers to America and the players to themselves.

“Tommy’s a very psychologically astute person,” said longtime Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia, now a coach with the team. “He knows how to read people and knows what they need to get them going. And that’s what made him a great manager.”

There were, of course, the emotional embraces in front of the dugout, public displays of affection that made Lasorda’s Dodgers baseball’s huggingest team. They were, according to Scioscia, not always all they seemed to be.

“I think that’s probably the biggest misconception the public has,” he said. “To run a club, it’s not just all hugging. You have to know who to pat on the back, when to pat him on the back, when you have to kick them in the butt and when you have to stroke them a little bit. And Tommy had that gift.”

The leftover left-hander pitched until 1960, then turned to coaching and managing. He succeeded Walt Alston as manager of the Dodgers at the end of 1976 and won National League pennants in his first two full seasons, 1977 and 1978. In 1981 and 1988, Los Angeles won the World Series.

Lasorda, now a vice president with the team, always preached the Dodgers as family. He knew the names of players’ parents, wives and children.

All of this was viewed with some skepticism by players on other teams who thought nobody could be that enthusiastic about his team. Brett Butler was one of the doubters - until he got to Los Angeles in 1991.

“It was actually true,” Butler said. “Tommy actually loved the Dodgers and baseball more than anything in the whole world. I think Tommy actually loved the Dodgers more than he loves life itself.”

That raises the question of Jo Lasorda, the ex-manager’s wife of 47 years. Early on, Lasorda reportedly made things clear to his bride.

“Honey, I love the Dodgers,” he said, “but I love you more than football.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Inductees Nellie Fox Scrappy second baseman was the catalyst for the Go-Go Chicago White Sox of the 1950s… . A 12-time All-Star, was the American League’s MVP in 1959, leading the White Sox to their first World Series in 40 years… . A .288 career hitter, led A.L. in hits four times and finished with 2,663 hits, striking out just 216 times in 9,232 at bats…. Won three Gold Gloves and established a major league record, playing 798 consecutive games at second base… . Ranks in top 10 all time among second basemen in games, putouts, assists and fielding percentage.

Tom Lasorda Managed Los Angeles Dodgers for 20 seasons (1977-1996)… . Joined his predecessor, Walt Alston, Connie Mack and John McGraw as the only men to manage the same team for at least 20 years… . His teams won 1,599 games, eight National League West titles, four National League pennants and two World Series… . Managed 61 postseason games, second only to Casey Stengel’s 63.

Phil Niekro Won 318 games in 24 seasons with the Braves, Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays… . Frustrated hitters with a baffling knuckleball he learned from his father… . Five-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner… . Ranks fourth all time in innings pitched (5,404 1-3), eighth in strikeouts (3,342) and 14th in victories… . Led National League in innings and complete games four times and in wins twice… . Pitched no-hitter against San Diego on Aug. 5, 1973… . Manages Colorado Silver Bullets, touring women’s baseball team.

Willie Wells Slick fielding shortstop and premier hitter for 20 seasons in the Negro Leagues… . Played on pennant-winning teams with the St. Louis Stars, Chicago American Giants and Newark Eagles… . Hit 123 career home runs, including league-leading 27 in just 88 games in 1929… . Led league with .403 batting average in 1930, one of 10 seasons when he hit over .300… . Also played in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, and was player-manager at Newark.

Charley Feeney Winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award… . Reported major league baseball in Pittsburgh and New York for 41 years with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Long Island Press and New York Journal American.

Jimmy Dudley Winner of the Ford C. Frick Award… . Radio voice of the Cleveland Indians from 1948-1967… . Graduate of the University of Virginia, where he majored in chemistry and played baseball, basketball and football.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Inductees Nellie Fox Scrappy second baseman was the catalyst for the Go-Go Chicago White Sox of the 1950s… . A 12-time All-Star, was the American League’s MVP in 1959, leading the White Sox to their first World Series in 40 years… . A .288 career hitter, led A.L. in hits four times and finished with 2,663 hits, striking out just 216 times in 9,232 at bats…. Won three Gold Gloves and established a major league record, playing 798 consecutive games at second base… . Ranks in top 10 all time among second basemen in games, putouts, assists and fielding percentage.

Tom Lasorda Managed Los Angeles Dodgers for 20 seasons (1977-1996)… . Joined his predecessor, Walt Alston, Connie Mack and John McGraw as the only men to manage the same team for at least 20 years… . His teams won 1,599 games, eight National League West titles, four National League pennants and two World Series… . Managed 61 postseason games, second only to Casey Stengel’s 63.

Phil Niekro Won 318 games in 24 seasons with the Braves, Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays… . Frustrated hitters with a baffling knuckleball he learned from his father… . Five-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner… . Ranks fourth all time in innings pitched (5,404 1-3), eighth in strikeouts (3,342) and 14th in victories… . Led National League in innings and complete games four times and in wins twice… . Pitched no-hitter against San Diego on Aug. 5, 1973… . Manages Colorado Silver Bullets, touring women’s baseball team.

Willie Wells Slick fielding shortstop and premier hitter for 20 seasons in the Negro Leagues… . Played on pennant-winning teams with the St. Louis Stars, Chicago American Giants and Newark Eagles… . Hit 123 career home runs, including league-leading 27 in just 88 games in 1929… . Led league with .403 batting average in 1930, one of 10 seasons when he hit over .300… . Also played in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, and was player-manager at Newark.

Charley Feeney Winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award… . Reported major league baseball in Pittsburgh and New York for 41 years with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Long Island Press and New York Journal American.

Jimmy Dudley Winner of the Ford C. Frick Award… . Radio voice of the Cleveland Indians from 1948-1967… . Graduate of the University of Virginia, where he majored in chemistry and played baseball, basketball and football.


 

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