The game has lost a legend, the Dodgers an icon and the Giants an iconic foil.
Tommy Lasorda, who had been the oldest living Hall of Famer, who led the Dodgers to two World Series in decades at their helm, who played the villain role so well to Giants fans who needed someone to boo, died Thursday night, the Dodgers announced. He suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home in Fullerton, Calif. He was 93.
Lasorda will be remembered for being one of the best ambassadors the game has seen, a classic, throwback type who managed Los Angeles from 1976–1996 and spent 71 seasons in the organization, making his big-league debut Aug. 5, 1954 in Brooklyn Dodgers blue.
He started as a Dodgers scout in 1961, transitioned to a minor league coach/manager in 1966, became the big-league third-base coach in 1973 before his tenure started in ’76. He won 1,599 games, the 1981 and 1988 World Series, and has been an emissary for the game as well as a Dodgers executive since.
He was a baseball character, full of life and stories, not above wrestling with mascots and as colorful a figure as the sport has seen. That color, of course, was blue.
“My clothes are blue, the Dodger color,” Lasorda famously told author Roger Kahn. “I won’t wear red. Cut my veins, and I bleed Dodger blue. If trouble comes, I pray to that big Dodger in the sky.”
His relationship with the Giants and their fans might have been best illustrated on Sept. 30, 1999, before the last game at Candlestick Park, when Lasorda — the enemy (though the Giants apparently gifted him a “Lasodra” jacket to wear) — was invited to walk one more time from the clubhouse down the right-field line to home plate, a chorus of boos greeting him every step. He played the wrestling heel perfectly before addressing the crowd.
“I finally figured it out,” he said. “You don’t hate me. You hate yourselves because you love me!”
There might not be another one like him.
“His passion, success, charisma and sense of humor turned him into an international celebrity, a stature that he used to grow our sport,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Tommy welcomed Dodger players from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere – making baseball a stronger, more diverse and better game. … It feels appropriate that in his final months, he saw his beloved Dodgers win the World Series for the first time since his 1988 team.”