Tommy Lasorda, one of baseball’s most colorful characters of the late 20th century, died on Thursday at the age of 93, silencing a voice that could be both comical and profane but never boring.
The Dodgers released a statement Friday that said Lasorda suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home Thursday night and was transported to the hospital. Lasorda passed away a short time later, the team said.
He won two World Series as the manager of the Dodgers and had been the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"My family, my partners and I were blessed to have spent a lot of time with Tommy," Dodgers owner and chairman Mark Walter said in a statement Friday. "He was a great ambassador for the team and baseball, a mentor to players and coaches, he always had time for an autograph and a story for his many fans and he was a good friend. He will be dearly missed."
Lasorda’s managerial accomplishments far outshone his playing resume, which included an 0-4 pitching record and 6.48 ERA in three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics from 1954-56.
He was 1,599-1,439 as the Dodgers’ manager from 1976-96, winning World Series in 1981 over the Yankees and in ’88 over the Athletics, the latter a major upset.
Lasorda was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 22, 1927. He bounced around the minor leagues in the late 1940s and early ‘50s before the Dodgers called him up in August 1954.
"There are two things about Tommy I will always remember," said Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully in a statement. "The first is his boundless enthusiasm. Tommy would get up in the morning full of beans and maintain that as long as he was with anybody else. The other was his determination. He was a fellow with limited ability and he pushed himself to be a very good Triple-A pitcher. He never quite had that something extra that makes a major leaguer, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try. Those are some of the things: his competitive spirit, his determination, and above all, this boundless energy and self-belief. His heart was bigger than his talent and there were no foul lines for his enthusiasm."
He did not make much of a mark in the majors, but after the Dodgers released him as a player in 1960, he rose through their ranks as a scout and minor-league manager before being named third-base coach in 1973.
It was in that era that he first came to the attention of many fans when he was mic’d up for a nationally televised game in 1974 and viewers got a sense of his engaging personality.
"Tommy Lasorda was one of the finest managers our game has ever known," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "He loved life as a Dodger. His career began as a pitcher in 1949 but he is, of course, best known as the manager of two World Series champions and four pennant-winning clubs. His passion, success, charisma and sense of humor turned him into an international celebrity, a stature that he used to grow our sport."
When Walter Alston retired in 1976, Lasorda got the top job, which he held until a heart attack in the summer of 1996 led him to retire at midseason.
Lasorda later led the United States to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
But he stayed with the Dodgers for decades after his retirement as manager, serving as a vice president, interim general manager, special adviser and goodwill ambassador.
In the 2001 All-Star Game, he served as an honorary third-base coach and was knocked over backward when Vladimir Guerrero’s shattered bat flew out of his hands and down the line.
Lasorda’s reach in the Dodgers’ world ran deep. He was close to the family of Hall of Fame catcher and former Met Mike Piazza, also from Norristown, and he encouraged the team to draft Piazza in the 62nd round in 1988, a move that paid huge dividends.
For all of his managerial achievements, Lasorda also will be remembered for some spectacularly profane public outbursts.
One came in 1978, when he was asked his opinion of Dave Kingman’s performance after Kingman hit three home runs against the Dodgers for the Cubs. (Future Yankees public address announcer Paul Olden was the question-asker.)
Many curse words ensued.
In 1982, Lasorda aimed his acid tongue at the Padres’ Kurt Bevacqua after Bevacqua accused him of ordering a beanball from one of his pitchers and called him a "fat little Italian."
His diatribe is impossible to do justice here, but eventually it turned into performance art, with reporters laughing out loud as Lasorda went on and on.
Through it all, Lasorda never wavered in his loyalty to the organization with which he spent the vast majority of his life, eventually surpassing even former announcer Vin Scully for the longest term associated with the Dodgers. Lasorda was in the stands as the Dodgers won the 2020 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays in Arlington, Texas.
"I bleed Dodger blue," he said, more than once, "and when I die, I’m going to the big Dodger in the sky."