Dodgers Dugout: Tommy Lasorda was a great manager too
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and there has been some sad news since we last met. Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda died at age 93, and Vin Scully‘s wife, Sandra, also died.
Lasorda died of a heart attack Jan. 8. Tributes poured in from around baseball, and many discussed his outsized personality. But one thing didn’t get discussed as much, and that’s what we’ll focus on now: He was a really good manager.
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Lasorda was one of the last managers to make decisions primarily by instinct. He had access to numbers of course, especially later in his career, but a good gut feeling would override those numbers sometimes.
Of course, sometimes his decisions didn’t work out well (Jack Clark, anyone?), but many times they did. The R.J. Reynolds squeeze play is but one example.
One of the most overlooked things he did was in 1981.
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I have many friends, some of whom used to work here at the Times, who say the Dodgers shouldn’t have even been in the 1981 playoffs, since Cincinnati had the best record in the NL. That was the strike year, where the season was split in two halves. MLB decided the division winners of each half would meet in a divisional playoff round to decide the official West and East champions in each league. The Dodgers won the first half, so they knew they would make the playoffs. What did Lasorda do with this bit of information?
He gave his younger players more playing time in crucial situations so they would be ready for the pressure of the playoffs. He gave his veterans a little more rest so they would be fresher in the playoffs. He gave his bench guys more consistent playing time. He managed with one eye on that day’s game, and one eye on the postseason.
And what happened in the postseason? Jay Johnstone hits a key homer. Steve Yeager and Rick Monday play like they are 10 years younger. Everyone contributed, partly because Lasorda made sure everyone was ready. He used the second half wisely, knowing he didn’t have to win the second half, and knowing he didn’t have to finish with the best record.
Then there is 1988. Has a manager every had a season when more decisions paid off?
Lasorda won titles everywhere. The minors, majors and Olympics. So while we will always celebrate his larger-than-life persona and his colorful quotes, let’s not forget his brilliance in the dugout.
Some memorable Lasorda quotes
—“There are three kinds of people in this world: people who make it happen, people who watch what happens, and people who wonder what happened.”
—“Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them.”
—“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”
—“Say ‘Dodgers’ and people know you’re talking about baseball. Say ‘Braves’ and they ask, ‘What reservation?’ Say ‘Reds’ and they think of communism. Say ‘Padres’ and they look around for a priest.”
—“I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”
—“The only Angels in Los Angeles are in heaven, and they’re looking down on the Dodgers.”
—“The best possible thing in baseball is winning the World Series. The second best thing is losing the World Series.”
—“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.”
—“Always give an autograph when somebody asks you.”
—“If he raced his pregnant wife, he’d finish third.” —about Mike Scioscia.
—After being asked “What did you think of Kingman’s performance” after Dave Kingman hit three homers in one game against the Dodgers: “What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance? What the [expletive] do you think my opinion is of it? I think it was [expletive]. Put that in. I don’t [expletive] care. What’s my opinion of his performance? [expletive]. He beat us with three [expletive] home runs. What the [expletive] do you mean? What is my opinion of his performance? How can you ask me a question like that? I’m [expletive] off to lose a [expletive] game, and you ask me my opinion of his performance?”
—“I don’t want guys who try … I want guys who do! I could go out and get a bunch of truck drivers to play for us who’ll try. I don’t want guys who try … I want guys who do!”
—"Nobody has to tell Frank Sinatra he is a good singer and nobody has to tell me that I am a good manager.”
—"My wife tells me one day, ‘I think you love baseball more than me.’ I say, ‘Well, I guess that’s true, but hey, I love you more than football and hockey.’”
—“When I took the job as the manager of the Olympic team, I didn’t take it because I was a Dodger. I did it because I was an American, and I wanted to bring that gold medal where it belongs in baseball, the United States. And that’s exactly what our team did.”
—“I walk into the clubhouse and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic. We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol and by the seventh inning he had drunk it all.”
—“Pressure is a word that is misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started to think of failure.”
—“If you don’t love the Dodgers, there’s a good chance you may not get into heaven.”
—“The only way I’d worry about the weather is if it snows on our side of the field and not theirs.”
—“When we win, I’m so happy I eat a lot. When we lose, I’m so depressed I eat a lot. When we’re rained out, I’m so disappointed I eat a lot.”
—“Eighty percent of the people who hear your troubles don’t care and the other 20% are glad you’re having them.”
—“I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer.”
—“Baseball is like driving, it’s the one who gets home safely that counts.”
—“People say you can’t go out and eat with your players. I say why not.”
—“Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you, have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?”
—“When I was interviewed after I got hired to replace Walter Alston, a future Hall of Famer, I was asked: ‘Don’t you feel pressure on you?’ I said: ‘Want to know something? I’m worried about the guy who’s going to have to replace me.’”
—“I bleed Dodger blue and when I die, I’m going to the big Dodger in the sky.”
More on Lasorda
Highlights of The Times’ coverage of Lasorda’s death:
Sandra Scully, known as Sandi, was 76 when she died of complications from Lou Gehrig’s disease at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
According to our obituary by Mike DiGiovanna, Sandi met Vin in the early 1970s, when she worked as an executive assistant to former Los Angeles Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom. While she operated the office switchboard one day, Scully walked in and inquired about purchasing a gift for then-Rams GM Don Klosterman.
“That was the premise,” Sandi told Dodgers historian Mark Langill in a 2016 interview. “Actually, he was there because someone had told him about me. We went on a date, and things happened to work out.”
Vin Scully thanked fans on Twitter for their condolences:
What is happening on the field?
I have a sneaking feeling that by the time you read this, or shortly thereafter, the Dodgers will have signed Justin Turner and perhaps reliever Kirby Yates. Players they had been talking to (or rumored to be talking about) have been lost to them, with DJ LeMahieu re-signing with the Yankees and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor being traded to the Mets. I don’t really want to comment yet, since whatever I say now could be moot by the time the next newsletter comes out Wednesday or Thursday. We will break it all down then.
Also, the Dodgers signed Blake Treinen to a two-year deal and reliever Tommy Kahnle to a two-year deal. Kahnle pitched in only one game last season before having Tommy John surgery and it is unlikely he will pitch this season, though Kahnle thinks he might be able to return at the end of the season. We will wait and see.
Meanwhile, on the arbitration front, the Dodgers avoided arbitrations with five players when they all agree to one-year deals: Relievers Dylan Floro ($975,000) and Corey Knebel ($5.25 million); center fielder Cody Bellinger ($16.1 million), shortstop Corey Seager ($13.75 million) and pitcher Julio Urías ($3.6 million).
That leaves two players headed for arbitration: Pitcher Walker Buehler and catcher Austin Barnes. Buehler is asking for $4.15 million and the Dodgers countered with $3.3 million Barnes wants $3.3 million and the Dodgers countered at $2 million. They can still negotiate until their arbitration hearing. If an agreement isn’t reached by then, an arbitration judge will decide.
Back to a regular schedule
With the holiday season over and my vacations done, you’ll be happy (I hope) to know that the newsletter returns to a twice-weekly schedule starting this week. I appreciate you hanging in there with me during the gaps between issues this off-season. You’ll get more than enough of me during 2021 to make up for it.
In the next issue, we’ll hopefully be able to discuss a Turner signing, and we’ll also look at the current 40-man roster.
Last call for your 10 greatest moments in Dodger history
Starting soon, we will be counting down the greatest moments in Dodger history, as chosen by Dodgers Dugout readers. Here’s what I need from you:
1. Email me your list of the 10 greatest moments in Dodger history.
2. Rank them in order, with your first moment being your top choice for the greatest moment. I’ll assign points based on where you have them ranked, with 12 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third, and so on.
3. A moment can be whatever you want it to be. The Kirk Gibson homer. The Sandy Koufax perfect game. The Dodgers hitting four homers in a row in the bottom of the ninth. Fernandomania. Winning the 2020 World Series. Winning the 1955 World Series. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. R.J. Reynolds’ squeeze bunt. Rick Monday saves the flag. It can be from Brooklyn or Los Angeles. Whatever you want. Just come up with 10.
4. That’s all you have to do. Simple! Starting soon, I’ll run the 25 moments that got the most points. So put on your thinking caps. Does Charlie Culberson‘s homer in Vin Scully‘s final game deserve a spot in your top 10? Maury Wills’ stolen base record? Don Drysdale consecutive scoreless innings streak? Orel Hershiser‘s? There are dozens of moments to choose from.
So, email me your choices at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just click here. Please put Dodger moments in the subject line.
Tommy Lasorda has had enough of the Phillie Phanatic. Watch it here.
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