NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES : Lasorda Manages to Make It Happen for the Dodgers

Washington Post

Maybe this will make up for the intentional walk to Jack Clark. The walk that never happened. The walk that Tom Lasorda never ordered in the National League playoffs in 1985.

Different circumstances reveal different slices of a manager’s skill. Nobody’s got it all. You just hope that, over the long haul, you get the chance to show the strong as well as the weak.

Tactics have never been Lasorda’s trump suit. But he has never been the bumbler many cast him to be after Clark took Tom Niedenfuer to Pasadena to win the pennant for St. Louis.


Now a playoff has rolled around that casts Lasorda in the best possible light, just as it is showing baseball’s Mr. Brains, Davey Johnson of the Mets, from a slightly less flattering angle.

No team has ever needed pep talks and pap, pats on the back and screams in the face, more than these underdog Dodgers.

When they had their hearts ripped out in National League Championship Series Game 1 by Gary Carter’s down-to-the-last-strike bloop, Lasorda had the answer before Game 2. Somehow, he got wind of a ghosted column by David Cone in the New York Daily News--3,000 miles away--and long before game time, he had copies of the ill-advised masterwork pasted all over the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Complete with appropriate highlighting.

Bench jockeying is almost a lost art, but Lasorda, who can outcurse any man in baseball and loves to prove it, revived the form that night. Cone lasted two innings. Lasorda should have been awarded the poor kid’s ears.

The Dodgers got the bank-vault-from-the-top-story dropped on them again in Game 3 when Harry Wendelstedt gave Jay Howell the heave for using pine tar. Once again, a Dodgers lead--4-3 in the eighth--went up in a forest fire of Mets hits.

Lasorda was the perfect motivator, the perfect intuitive psychologist again. Talk about the wrath of the righteous. He praised National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti to the skies while damning every aspect of his decision to uphold Wendelstedt and suspend Howell. Everybody uses pine tar, Lasorda insisted, although, of course, they don’t. It doesn’t give a pitcher an edge, he said, although, of course, Jay Howell would never have bothered to use it if it didn’t. “What is a resin bag for?” Lasorda asked with Socratic eloquence. “It’s so the pitcher can get a better grip on the ball.”


By Monday, Lasorda had topped himself again. He was in heaven. “A chemist called me,” he said. “Do you know what pine tar is? It’s liquid resin.”

Most managers fear more than anything else the charge that they have lost a crucial game. Let the players lose it, many bosses think. Just don’t let me leave myself naked before mine enemies.

Sunday night, Lasorda left himself with nary a thread. And he pulled it off.

He used two starters in relief, including his potential Game 6 and Game 7 pitchers. He used seven pitchers in all and he sent an eighth back to the hotel to get his sleep for Game 5. With his ninth pitcher, Howell, suspended, Lasorda had nobody left.


“I told the guys on the bench that if Hershiser walked in the tying run and we had to keep playing (several more innings), that they could just wear black armbands during the next game,” Lasorda recalled.

Why black armbands?

“ ‘Cause I’d have killed myself.

“How could I walk down the street the rest of my life with everybody pointing at me saying, ‘Do you know what he did to his team? Do you know what he did to Orel Hershiser?’ ”

When you’re hot, you guess right.

As 1 a.m. approached in the 12th inning of Game 4, Lasorda called for Jesse Orosco--not his favorite reliever--to face his old Mets mates, Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, a lefty against lefties. Orosco walked Hernandez, then threw ball one to Strawberry. Lasorda, who usually goes to the mound only to remove pitchers, visited Orosco--neck veins bulging, jaw flapping, eye to eye. You’ll never see a better chewout. Lip readers had a field day.

“I just gave him a little encouragement,” Lasorda said the next day. “Just a few words to let him know we were all behind him.”

Lasorda gave such a pep talk before Game 4 that Hershiser, who’d thrown 118 pitches the night before, walked up to him and said, “I’m ready.” “What for?” said Lasorda. “For the bullpen,” said the man whose September feats will go straight to the Hall of Fame.

As if that weren’t enough, Hershiser sneaked out of the dugout in the eighth inning of Game 5 and warmed himself up. Since he was already hot--the damage done, so to speak--Lasorda admitted he’d have used him if the jam got tight enough.

Lasorda is proud of himself. Just as he wept publicly after his Clark gaffe, he’s busting his buttons now. Asked how Hershiser got his nickname, “Bulldog,” Lasorda says, “I gave it to him. When he first came up, I gave him a talk so good I wish I had it on tape. At the end, I told him, when the P.A. announcer says, ‘Now pitching for the Dodgers, Orel Hershiser,’ do you think that scares Dale Murphy? From now on, you’re Bulldog Hershiser.”

Lo, Hershiser, who once pitched like a puppy, has become his name.

Former Orioles John Shelby and Rick Dempsey arrived in Los Angeles in demoralized states. Lasorda’s positive thinking, his ego-boosting, doesn’t work on everybody. But it was what they needed. Shelby, in particular, once took failure to heart for weeks; now, he ends Game 4 and 5 by making exactly the same sort of shoestring catch he failed to make to end Game 1. Is that partly Lasorda?

Lasorda has now taken the Dodgers to the playoffs 6 times in 12 years--little credit he usually gets for it. Some might think that this team, because it has won with mirrors and because it has reflected so well on Lasorda, might be his favorite.

Ask him and you get pure Tommy--a story that is such a perfect mix of schmaltz and truth that you want to hug him with one hand and cover your wallet with the other: “When I was 14 years old, somebody asked my father which of his 5 sons he loved the most. I knew he was gonna say me. But, instead, he held up his hand and said, ‘Which finger do I love the best?’ ”