It was an innocent question.
All Paul Olden wanted to know was, what did then-Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda think of Dave Kingman’s performance against the Dodgers that afternoon in Dodger Stadium.
More specifically, what was Lasorda’s opinion of it?
The towering Kingman had just hit three home runs in a 10-7 Chicago Cubs victory on May 14, 1978, the last a three-run shot against Rick Rhoden in the top of the 15th inning.
In front of a Mother’s Day crowd, the 6-foot-6 left fielder had driven in eight runs over the course of a five-hour game.
Olden, a reporter for radio station KLAC, needed a pithy comment to wrap up his day’s work and send him on his way to join his family and celebrate what was left of the holiday.
Instead, the volcanic Lasorda gave Olden a sound bite for the ages, an off-the-cuff, profanity-laced classic.
Lasorda’s unforgettable (and unprintable) tirade -- It starts with, “What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance? What the . . . do you think is my opinion of it?” -- was a regular feature on Jim Healy’s one-of-a-kind radio show for years and has lingered in the minds of listeners and on the Internet since Healy’s death in 1994.
“More than 30 years later,” Olden notes with a laugh, “I’m still hearing about that thing from various people.”
As he speaks, Olden is seated inside a booth in the press box at the new Yankee Stadium. Now 55, he is the public-address announcer for the 26-time World Series champions, having replaced the ailing Bob Sheppard this season.
In years past, the Dorsey High- and Los Angeles City College-educated Olden worked as a play-by-play announcer for the Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His resume also includes play-by-play stints at UCLA and with the Los Angeles Rams and New York Jets. From 1994 to 2005, he was the PA announcer for 12 consecutive Super Bowls.
But in his hometown, Olden is perhaps best known for posing an innocuous question that riled a cranky manager.
“If the guy had asked it a different way,” Lasorda insists in an interview at Dodger Stadium, “I would have been OK with it. But he said, ‘What is your opinion?’ That changes it. If he’d said, ‘What did he hit?’ or, ‘Was he swinging right?’ that would have been different. But he said, ‘What is your opinion?’ and I proceeded to tell him.”
Lasorda figured the recording would be unsuitable for airing because of all the cursing, and that would be that.
Soon, he knew better.
The next night, Lasorda says, a reporter told him he’d heard the clip, full of bleeps, on Healy’s show. “He said, ‘I almost ran off the freeway when I heard it,’ ” Lasorda recalls.
The late Buzzie Bavasi, a friend of Healy’s and a former Dodgers and Angels executive, got a copy of the unedited version of the tape, Lasorda says, “and it spread like wildfire.” Frankie Avalon and Burt Reynolds were among those who first asked Lasorda about it in front of his wife, Jo, who wondered, “What tape?”
Lasorda says he was mortified.
“Let me preface this,” the former manager says, in all seriousness. “I’ve been married 59 years and I have never used one word of profanity in front of my wife. Never. On the field, I was bad, and I’m not proud of that. But that’s on the field.”
Still, Lasorda notes, he harbors no ill will toward Olden.
“I don’t hold him responsible, and I told him that,” Lasorda says. “He was doing his job. I probably shouldn’t have talked like that, but I didn’t think he would play it. . . .
“I was very, very upset. I was being honored that night by [the] Cystic Fibrosis [Foundation] and I no more wanted to go there than I wanted to jump off this stadium.”
His outburst’s enduring shelf life seems to amuse Lasorda.
As it does Olden.
Several years ago, Olden says, he sold the clip to a company that included it on a CD called “Baseball’s Greatest Hits.”
It fetched $300.
After leaving the Devil Rays in 2004, Olden lived in Los Angeles and worked part-time as a fill-in sports anchor at KNX. An avid photographer, he took photojournalism classes at Valley College, where he was photo editor of the school newspaper.
In January, the Yankees called and Olden jumped at the chance to move back East again, settling in Brooklyn.
Though he doesn’t announce Derek Jeter’s at-bats -- the Yankees captain, at Jeter’s insistence, is introduced by a recording of Sheppard’s voice -- Olden loves his job.
“Unfortunately,” he notes, “I’ve had a career history of working for teams that weren’t very good -- until now.”
Still, his past is never far away.
On his birthday a few years ago, Olden notes with a laugh, a friend gave him a baseball signed by Kingman packaged with a photo of Lasorda autographed by the former manager.
On it, Lasorda wrote, “What’s my opinion of you turning 50? What do you think is my opinion of it?”
This time, he left it at that.