The Artful Dodger by Tommy Lasorda and David Fisher (Arbor House: $15.95; 259 pp., illustrated)
Never mind the best-seller lists. The acid test is this: Can a lifelong Giant fan find happiness in the autobiography of Tommy Lasorda?
Lasorda, a man of Gargantuan excesses, loves everybody and everyone, with the pungent exception of the Giants. A unique opportunity, then, to skewer the man with his own words: Lasorda is loud, vulgar, fat, brash, pugnacious--and absolutely irresistible.
In seemingly perpetual employ of his revered Dodgers--pitcher, scout, coach, manager--he continues to live his dream like a man with a guaranteed no-cut appetite given the run of a linguine factory.
An American original larger than life (at least around the waistline), Lasorda writes as one might expect: in non-stop superlatives. “I believe I am the happiest man on earth,” he says more than once. “I married the most wonderful woman in the world.” “We are living in the greatest country in the world.”
Even the rare potholes on the highway to Blue heaven merit a measure of Lasorda hyperbole. After a fishing expedition in Vero Beach, “There has never been a worse case of sunburn in history.” When a pigeon plops on his head in Buffalo, “It was the lowest of all moments.” As for Adolfo Luque, his manager in Havana: “He was the worst human being I have ever known.”
From almost anyone else, such crapulence could be dismissed as the ranting of a manic buffoon. Curiously--and oddly refreshingly--one can almost believe it, coming from Lasorda. Or at least believe that he believes it--for the moment. The same gammon from, say, a Durocher would carry much less weight--as did Leo. (Of a Mays homer, the Lip once observed: “I never saw a bleeping ball get out of a bleeping park so bleeping fast in my bleeping life.”) Compared to Durocher though--a misanthrope (except, of course, when he was managing the Giants)--Lasorda is a bleeping Santa Claus.
Among his gifts, perhaps the most endearing, is a rare, ripe ability to set himself up as the target of the brush-back pitch before plunking others. “Statistics can be misleading,” Lasorda writes of his 0-4 major-league pitching record. “When Drysdale or Gibson pitched, for example, the other team never scored any runs . . . " Or, “My control has always been better when I was throwing at a big target, like a batter, than something small, like home plate.”
An uninterrupted lode of anecdotes, the book traces Lasorda’s career from a poor but proud upbringing in Norristown, Pa.,(where his sainted dad “believed that the quickest way to a boy’s mind was through his backside”) through the minors and the Caribbean leagues to the mother club, scrapping, exhorting, conniving and bellowing all the way. (Walt Alston actually kept Lasorda on the roster--albeit on the bench--just because “he likes the way you yell at everybody.”)
It is an exuberant book, marred only by a late chapter that chronicles, unnecessarily, all the famous friends Lasorda has had, the TV shows he’s been on, the products he endorses . . .
There are no revelations--about the only thing this consummate company man wouldn’t bite is the hand that feeds him--but there is joy, camaraderie, unashamed love in Lasorda’s incontinent Odyssey.
In the end, even a Dodger-hater, in spite of himself, feels compelled to wish well to this profane and irrepressible pumpkin. Except, of course, when those bums play the Giants.