Advertisement
Share

He’s Going to Cooperstown

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Lasorda, whose passion for baseball grew into one of the great romances of the last 50 years, was voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Lasorda, who spent nearly 20 years as Dodger manager and 47 years in the organization, wept at being told of his election. He is only the 14th manager in major league history so honored.

“It’s the most precious day of my life,” Lasorda said, tears streaming down his face. “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t believe this has happened to me at this point of time.

“Everybody’s goal is to get into the Hall of Fame, and I’m there.”

Advertisement

Lasorda, who was voted in by the 15-member veterans’ committee, joined Nellie Fox, a longtime Chicago White Sox second baseman, and Willie Wells, who starred in the Negro leagues. They will be inducted Aug. 3 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I am thrilled for him,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said. “Where some fellows make the Hall of Fame because of their remarkable God-given talent, Tommy has never been blessed with great physical talent. He’s fought and clawed his way throughout his professional career. It’s really been a rough ride.

“What he did the last few years with the Dodgers paled in comparison to the time and effort he put in along the way to get there.

“He’s got a lot of bluster, and a lot of the other things, but he’s a baseball man. If anyone ever said that baseball was his life, it would be Lasorda.”

The Dodgers immediately announced that Lasorda’s jersey, No. 2, will be retired, as have those of Jim Gilliam and Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Walter Alston, Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Don Drysdale. They also named the main street that leads to the Dodgertown entrance here Tommy Lasorda Lane.

“When you want to meet someone there, tell them to meet you at the corner of Jackie Robinson Avenue and Tommy Lasorda Lane,” Lasorda said.

Lasorda, 69, who retired as Dodger manager July 29 after suffering a mild heart attack, nearly had to wait another year. The veterans’ committee was reluctant to vote Lasorda in because of his frequently stated wishes to manage again one day. But he told The Times last weekend that he had managed his last game and would stay retired.

Buzzie Bavasi, former Dodger general manager, relayed that to the rest of the committee members and the conversation lasted less than two minutes before the vote.

Advertisement

Still, Lasorda and the others eligible failed to reach a three-quarters majority vote on the first vote so the committee voted again on the six top vote-getters. This time, Lasorda received the necessary 12 votes, edging out former American League President Lee MacPhail and the late Dodger owner, Walter O’Malley.

“We told him that if he managed again, we’d tear down the statue,” committee chairman Joe L. Brown, former general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, said. “Some of us talked to him afterward, and he assured us he wasn’t going to manage again.”

Dodger relief pitcher Todd Worrell said, “Tommy, in a real bad way, needed something to bring closure to his [managing] career. Maybe this is it.

“We all know what he’d want to do. The guy would manage until he dropped dead in the dugout if somebody would let him.”

Advertisement

Lasorda, in fact, was in uniform here this spring. He stood outside the clubhouse in the morning and hugged the players as they walked onto the field for practice. He chatted with reporters, spoke to a group of minor league players, and waited.

He was sitting in the stands behind the Dodger dugout with former third baseman Ron Cey when the Hall of Fame called. He walked up to the press box, then wept when he was told the news.

The public address announcer relayed the news to the crowd of 3,275 at the exhibition game with the Montreal Expos and the fans responded with a standing ovation. Players from both teams waved to Lasorda from the field.

“Being elected to the Hall of Fame is the ultimate, it’s the highest plateau,” said Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, who hired Lasorda to replace the retiring Alston in 1976. “It’s a proud day for all of us in the organization.”

Advertisement

Lasorda telephoned his brothers at the family restaurant in Norristown, Pa., his hometown, where everyone cried for joy.

And at home in Fullerton, Lasorda’s wife, Jo, cried as well.

“I shed a bucket of tears, believe me,” Jo Lasorda said. “I’ll be in Cooperstown, dead or alive this summer. If something is wrong, they can pickle me and ship me.

“It couldn’t happen to anybody who loved the Dodgers or baseball more than Tommy.”

Advertisement

Lasorda was hoping to reach Al Campanis, the Dodgers’ former general manager who is hospitalized in Los Angeles.

“Al helped me so much, taught me so much about baseball, so much about life,” Lasorda said.

Lasorda, now a club vice president, finished his career with a 1,599-1,439 record. His teams won two World Series, four National League pennants and seven division titles.

“I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to,” Lasorda said. “I’ve managed 20 years. I’ve managed world championship teams. I’ve managed All-Star games. I’ve managed the greatest players who ever played the game of baseball.

Advertisement

“I’ve achieved everything, but to achieve something like this is the epitome of it all.

“I remember coming here for the first time in 1949. There were 780 players in camp. There were 26 farm teams. And there were 50 free agents.

“I outlasted every one of them in that camp.

“And now I’m a Hall of Famer.

Advertisement

“I can’t believe it.”


Advertisement