Tommy Lasorda always had a soft spot for children, particularly kids going through struggles. You could see it on the mound of Isotopes Park back in April 2014 when he chatted with Berrendo Middle School shooting victims Nathaniel Tavarez and Kendal Sanders, whom he allowed to fawn over one of his World Series rings before the Roswell youngsters threw out the first pitches of opening day.
And while Lasorda wasn’t a member of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, as a Journal sports reporter noted in August 2012, you wouldn’t know it by talking to him. He loved to play up the Duke City, although he managed here only one season in 1972.
While in town as a special adviser to the Dodgers in 2012, Lasorda gave the keynote address at the chamber’s annual meeting. “Albuquerque’s one of the fastest growing cities I’ve seen, and it’s really taken its place with other big cities around the country,” Lasorda told the Journal before his speech. “Besides, that’s what the Chamber of Commerce wants to hear, right?”
Before he became a World Series-winning Major League manager and a national celebrity who appeared on late night talk and TV shows and TV commercials, Lasorda skippered the 1972 Albuquerque Dukes to a Pacific Coast League title. It was an important step in his Hall of Fame managerial career, and he never forgot Albuquerque. “I love coming here,” Lasorda told the Journal nearly a decade ago. “It’s a great city, and part of my roots are here.”
Forty years after the fact, while in his mid-80s, Lasorda was able to reel off most of the 1972 team’s key players at the drop of a hat. “Our eighth-place hitter was our shortstop, Steve Huntz,” Lasorda said in 2012, “and he drove in almost 100 runs. That was a hell of a ball club.”
Lasorda went on to manage the Dodgers for 20 years, winning 1,599 games, two World Series titles and numerous manager of the year awards.
Growing up in the Chicago media market watching Cubs games on WGN-TV, it was always a treat when they played the venerable Dodgers. The way the portly Lasorda would run onto the field to protest a call, flapping both his bowed arms up and down over his head, causing him to need to pull up his uniform pants at both hips, was the stuff of legends. By the time he got to the infield or home plate, he was winded, stammering and spittling. The way his eyes bulged and the veins popped out in his neck while seemingly speaking in incomplete sentences reminded me of my dad.
I’d yell at the TV, “get him off the field,” not because I disagreed with his protest, but because I worried he was going to collapse right there in the Friendly Confines and we’d be stuck with another curse.
But in over 3,000 games managed in the big leagues, Lasorda was only ejected 43 times, according to beyondtheboxscore.com. The fact he had an ejection rate of 1.4% shows Lasorda knew when to pull the plug on the antics and get back inside the dugout.
Lasorda was probably the best-liked opposing manager to visit Wrigley Field and many other ballparks. His onfield celebrations and demonstrations, colorful personality and frank opinions about ballplayers captured the hearts of fans. Before the steroid scandal rocked Major League Baseball, Lasorda said it was clear several players were “juiced,” even mentioning them by name. That must have shook the league office in New York, but he leveled with fans, and the scandal turned out to be true.
Lasorda watched his last baseball game at Globe Life Field in Texas in October amid the coronavirus pandemic where the Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988. Just a few months later, baseball lost one of its living legends when Lasorda died Jan. 7 at his home in California, at the age of 93.
RIP Tommy Lasorda. The Duke City and the baseball world will always remember you as well.