Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#306 Tommy Lasorda - Los Angeles Dodgers

Tommy Lasorda is listed as Tom but what fun is that?  It looks like Lasorda might be trying to make a point with an umpire.  He had one card as a player in the '54 set and his first manager card was in the '78 set.  So not counting team cards in other sets this is just his third Topps card.

PlayerTommy Lasorda had a lengthy minor league career and parts of three seasons in the majors.  The 17 year old Lasorda began his pitching career in 1945 for the Phillies organization but served in the Army the next two years.  Resuming his career in 1948 at Schenectady of the Can-Am league he whiffed a mind boggling 25 batters in a 15 inning victory and drove in the winning run with a single.  The season was otherwise a downer as he struggled with control walking 153 in 192 innings.

The Dodgers acquired Lasorda in the minor league draft and a better year followed in '49 as he posted a 2.93 ERA for Carolina in the South Atlantic League.  Lasorda spent the next six years with the Dodgers top farm club in Montreal.  While north of the border, Lasorda worked his way up from swing man to staff workhorse.  He got into four games with Brooklyn in 1954 and four more the next year but did not factor into any decisions.  In '56 the Kansas City Athletics purchased him and he was 0-4 with a 6.15 ERA and 45 walks in 45 innings.  The A's traded Lasorda to the Yankees for Wally Burnette which spelled the end of his major league career. 

Lasorda pitched for Denver in the Yankees system until May of '57 when the Dodgers bought his contract from the Yankees.  He pitched in the minors for the Dodgers organization until July 1960.  He won 136 games in the minors but the southpaw was wild walking 4.8 per nine innings. 

Manager:  Lasorda worked as a scout for the Dodgers from '61 to '65 before receiving his first managerial post for the Rookie League Dodgers in 1966.  Lasorda won three championships in the low minors and worked his way up to AAA Spokane by '69.  When the team moved to Albuquerque in '72, so did he and he guided them to a PCL championship.  

Lasorda was promoted to the Dodgers third base coach position in '73 which he held until Walter Alston handed off the manager's job with four games to go in the '76 campaign.  The colorful Lasorda had been courted by other teams and the Dodgers were anxious to get Lasorda in the fold before losing him to another team.  How much pressure Alston felt to step down isn't known but Lasorda had reportedly turned down managerial jobs from other teams to stay in LA. 

Lasorda guided the Dodgers to NL pennants in his first two seasons at the helm with 98 and 95 win seasons.  The Dodgers fell victim to the Yankees, losing in six games in both series.  After a sub-par '79 season the Dodgers and Astros were tied after 162 games in 1980.  The deadlock set up a game 163 which the Astros won handily.  Lasorda and the Dodgers came through with a World Championship in '81 getting revenge on both the Astros and the Yankees along the way.

Lasorda had been known for his work with young players in the minors and continued to develop talent at the major league level.  The Dodgers had a string of NL Rookie of the Year winners from 1979-82 that included Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax.

The Dodgers won the NL West in both '83 and '85 but were eliminated in the NLCS both times.  After a pair of 89 loss seasons in '86 and '87 Lasorda and the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988 defeating the A's in five games.  The image of a jubilant Lasorda running out of the dugout following Kirk Gibson's walk off Game 1 home run is a lasting image to all who witnessed the moment.  (Lasorda seen here at the 1:46 mark).

Over the next five years the Dodgers finished 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, and 4th.  The 6th place 99 loss season in '92 would be by far the worst during Lasorda's tenure.  The Dodgers were in first place in '94 when the strike ended the season.  The '95 team won the NL West but were swept in three games by the Reds.  The Dodgers were 41-25 when Lasorda checked himself into a hospital with what was determined to be a heart attack.  Lasorda recovered but announced his retirement from the dugout on 6/29/96.   

Flipside: Lasorda walked a whopping 56 in 58 major league innings.  The 25 strikeout game was a record at the time but since has been broken.  Lasorda's first managing gig was in Pocatello, Idaho in 1965.  I wonder why Topps didn't excluded it?

Oddball: Some of my first baseball memories were made watching "The Baseball Bunch" which starred Johnny Bench coaching youngsters on the fundamentals of the game.  Each episode they consulted the Dugout Wizard who was played by Lasorda.  The Wizard was a baseball guru clad in a turban who proclaimed baseball knowledge for young and old. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum from children's broadcasting are some of Lasorda's famous R-rated rants. There are a number of them but my favorite is when he rips on the Padres Kurt Bevacqua and Joe Lefebrve

History: Lasorda retired as one of the all time greats with a career record of 1599-1434 winning two World Series, four pennants, and eight first place finishes.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in '97.  His Dodger teams were usually very pitching strong and when they stalled out it was usually on offense. 
Lasorda managed the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 2000 and has stayed active with the Dodgers and MLB in a variety of roles.  

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