When Joe Torre became manager of t he Dodgers he observed that ‘Tommy Lasorda hugged his players and we all laughed at him. Now we all do it.”
Lasorda, who celebrated his 82nd birthday last week, remains an ambassador of baseball and adds to his legacy.
He was recently inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hall Of Fame and then became a member of The Smithsonian in a Washington, D.C. ceremony.
He’s been a fixture with the Dodgers since 1971 and tears come to the former manager’s eyes when he thinks about his career.
“It’s a life I have lived and been so happy about,” he says.
Many other managers have been World Series winners too, but only he brought hugging to the major leagues and made it acceptable.
“I did it because that was my way of showing the players how much I appreciated what they were doing for me and the team,” he said.
“I needed those players a lot more than they needed me. If you don’t win you’re out. And in the 20 years I managed the Dodgers there were over 200 managers fired.”
I see Lasorda often in the Dodgers’ press box and he’s still a dynamo. He travels extensively to promote the World Baseball Classic and represent the Dodgers at various events.
The question he is asked most often is what led him to use a hobbling Kirk Gibson as a pinch-hitter in the 1988 World Series, when Gibson’s home run propelled the Dodgers over the Oakland A’s to the team’s last World Series championship.
“In every inning I ran into the trainers’ room to see if there was anything we could do for him,” Lasorda recalls.
“At the start of the ninth inning Mitch Poole, our clubhouse kid, said Gibson wanted to talk to me. Gibson told me ‘I think I can hit.’
‘I put Dave Anderson on deck as a decoy. Then Gibson came out of the dugout and I got goose bumps.
“When Gibson hit the home run bedlam broke out at Dodger Stadium. Never in my 20 years did I ever see the crowd react like that.”
Lasorda says he still believes in Santa Claus.
“The best birthday present I’ve ever received was in 1988,” he said. “I asked Santa Claus to give us a championship and he did. I said ‘Santa, I don’t ask for too much, but our fans need a championship’. So he gave it to us and I still believe in him.”