Born in 1927 in Pennsylvania, Tommy Lasorda became a scout and manager in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization after a brief big league playing career. As a successful and popular manager for the Dodgers from 1977 to 1996, Lasorda won nearly 1,600 games and two World Series championships. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, he remained with the Dodgers as a special adviser.
Early Years and Career
Thomas Charles Lasorda was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on September 22, 1927. The second of five sons born to Italian immigrants Sabatino and Carmella Lasorda, he showed enough promise as a left-handed pitcher to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945.
After joining the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1949, Lasorda toiled in the minors for years before making his big league debut in 1954. He spent parts of two seasons with the Dodgers, and following another stint with the Kansas City Athletics in 1956, he returned to the minors for good.
Lasorda in 1960 became a scout for the Dodgers, who by then had moved to Los Angeles, and then a manager in their farm system beginning in 1966. He returned to the big leagues as a third-base coach for manager Walter Alston in 1973, and was named Alston's successor in 1976.
Managing the Dodgers
Lasorda immediately set the Dodgers on a winning path, guiding them to World Series appearances in 1977 and 1978. At the end of the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees in six games to give Lasorda his first World Series championship as a manager.
As a teenager, Lasorda had taken note of the motto on the side of a can of Carnation milk: "Contented Cows Give Better Milk," and that it was a concept he applied to his philosophy of managing. He worked at keeping team morale high, telling jokes and giving praise for hard work. His approach, to remain positive and work toward keeping his players content, earned him the respect of players and management throughout baseball, and resulted in a largely successful career. He was known as a great leader and one of baseball's great personalities, his popularity leading to several commercial endorsements.
Lasorda won another championship with the Dodgers in 1988, and was seemingly still going strong until he was hospitalized by a heart attack and an ulcer in 1996. He retired that season with a career managerial record of 1,599 wins against 1,439 losses, to go with eight National League West titles and four NL pennants. Twice voted Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he was just the fourth manager to remain at the helm of the same team for at least 20 years.
Executive and Ambassador
In 1997, Lasorda was elected to baseball's highest honor, the Baseball Hall of Fame. Lasorda's modesty and respect for the talents of his players was evident even after being given the distinguished honor, having said, "I got into the Hall of Fame because my players put me there!" after receiving the honor.
The longtime Dodger remained with the club as a vice president and briefly served as general manager in the late 1990s. He later became a special adviser to owner Frank McCourt, remaining in that position after the club changed ownership in 2012.
Lasorda was also tapped by Commissioner Bud Selig to be the official ambassador of the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament, in 2006 and 2009. A baseball icon, his portrait was placed in the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery in 2009.
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