Our thoughts and prayers are with 93-year old Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, who has been hospitalized in an intensive care unit in Orange County, California.
Tommy Lasorda‘s credentials are well known throughout the game. He spent 21 seasons as Dodgers‘ manager, from 1976-96. The charismatic skipper won 1,599 games and two World Series titles during his tenure with Los Angeles. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
As great a skipper as Lasorda was in the majors, fans often forget how he first emerged in the major league landscape as a pitcher!
Lasorda was born on September 22, 1927 in Norristown, Pennsylvania–eight days before Babe Ruth hit his 60th homer of the 1927 season (just a fun fact). He was signed by the Phillies in 1945 and made his minor league debut as a 17-year old for the Concord Weavers. He was the only member of the ’45 Weavers to go on to play in the majors. However, he would have to wait nearly ten years (and 200+ minor league games) before making his big league debut.
That day was August 5, 1954 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. It was a contest between the Dodgers and Cardinals, which was played in front of 10,026 fans. Not included among the fans were the five future Hall of Famers on the field! The Dodgers’ lineup featured Jackie Robinson, Pee-Wee Reese, and Duke Snider. The Cardinals had Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. And when Lasorda took the mound in the fifth inning as a reliever, that number would increase to six.
The appearance didn’t start out well for Lasorda, who allowed back-to-back singles to Schoendienst and Bill Sarni. However, he rebounded. Lasorda got Joe Cunningham to strikeout and Alex Grammas to bounce into a double play to end the frame without allowing a run.
He would go on to pitch two seasons for the Dodgers and was a member of their 1955 World Series championship club. Lasorda had his contract purchased by the Athletics prior to the 1956 season. 1956 would mark his longest and final stint as a major league pitcher. He appeared in 18 games, going 0-4 with a 6.15 ERA. His best game by far came on May 28 of that year when he struck out a career-high 10 batters in 8.2 innings against the White Sox.
Let’s be honest, Lasorda’s major league pitching career wasn’t at a Hall of Fame level. He never won a game and had a career ERA of 6.48. He had his moments–striking out Mickey Mantle twice comes to mind–, but nothing that made you say “wow, this is a future Hall of Famer!”
However, it did set the foundation for one of the greatest managerial careers in baseball history. He is a beloved icon who bleeds Dodgers’ blue down to the core of his soul. I think we should remember of the early days of that soul and how it was formed. Get well soon, Mr. Lasorda!