Last Friday night’s fireworks proved more than appropriate to honor the 90th birthday of Dodgers special advisor Tommy Lasorda as he and the Dodgers celebrated the team clinching their fifth consecutive NL West championship.
“Tommy is a great Dodger, a great Hall of Famer and a great American,” said MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, during the pre-game ceremony honoring Lasorda. “He will always be known for his service to the Dodgers, but he has also rendered great service to Major League baseball.”
The Commissioner was among the nearly dozen former players and dignitaries who came to celebrate the Hall of Fame manager. Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser, who is currently on the Dodgers’ broadcast team, hosted the event. Hershiser introduced some of Lasorda’s former players on the infield: Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Eric Karros, Rick Monday, Steve Yeager, Manny Mota, Mickey Hatcher, Ken Landreaux, Jerry Royster, Derrel Thomas, Kevin Gross and Juan Castro.
Hershiser shared one of his favorite quotes from Lasorda,“‘Never tell me that you tried, find a way to win.’”
Winning was exactly what Lasorda did and a lot of it. Over two decades and 21 seasons as the Dodgers manager, he racked up 1,599 wins including eight division titles. His love of the Dodgers organization still remains unwavering.
“You’re the greatest fans in the world and we owe you a championship,” Lasorda addressed the sellout crowd at Dodger stadium.
The ceremony also featured a video tribute of his life narrated by retired Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully. It concluded with Scully wishing a, “Happy birthday to the most loyal Dodger we’ve ever known.”
Lasorda has been a part of the Dodgers organization holding an innumerable amount of titles from a minor leaguer to pitcher, a scout, manager, general manager, special advisor and now a team ambassador. He even has a namesake in Dodger stadium with an Italian food concession stand named after him, Tommy Lasorda’s Trattoria, located in the right-field pavilion. His various roles with the Dodgers spans over a 68-year period, cementing his legacy in Dodger history. Current Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, says while he means a great deal to this organization, his impact has touched the game of baseball in a special way.
“I think it’s considerably bigger than just the group of guys in the clubhouse, it is more the city, the organization and Major League baseball in general,” said Roberts of Lasorda. “He means a lot.”
Commissioner Manfred even attributed the success and growth of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) to Lasorda, stating that he was the first and only official ambassador of the WBC.
“He played a key role in making the tournament what it is today,” said Manfred.
“He’s been a very big advocate for many years,” Roberts added. “Speaking for Los Angeles and the Dodgers he’s been at the forefront.”
Lasorda occupied the Dodgers manager position for 20 years (1976-1996) where he led the team to two championships in 1981 and 1988, and four World Series appearances. After suffering a heart attack in 1996, he decided to retire. His accolades were recognized a year later with an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. Lasting through eight ownership changes is no easy feat.
“He understood the talent and skill of the players and helped hone them,” remarked Ron Cey, former Dodgers third baseman. “He was like a father figure to a lot of us. He was with us all the time. We played baseball from sunup to sundown.”
When the Hall of Famer managed the rookie club in Ogden, he had a sign on the wall that read, “Love baseball, hate the Giants”, remembered former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire who was Lasorda’s then boss. It was only fitting that the Dodgers clinched the NL West division title with a 4-2 win over their division rival, Giants.
The customary Friday night post game fireworks were set off with a celebration on the field, as the sweet sounds of Lasorda’s favorite singer, Frank Sinatra played in the background. Sinatra, in fact, sang the national anthem prior to Lasorda’s first game as a Dodgers manager in 1977.
Lasorda made sure to make his way to the clubhouse for champagne showers with the team. A birthday celebration tailormade for a Dodgers icon.