In 2008, I flew to Florida for a few days of spring training. The main reason was that the Dodgers would be leaving their longtime facility in Vero Beach for Arizona the next year, and I wanted to see the complex.
I spent the morning walking from field to field, watching minor leaguers work out, spotting manager Joe Torre on his golf cart, noting the names of all the streets named for Dodgers legends: Duke Snider Drive, Vin Scully Way, Don Drysdale Drive.
That afternoon, I went to the exhibition game against the Marlins, and as luck would have it, Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda was back in the dugout as the skipper (or at least in a figurative role). Later that week, Torre was going to lead a contingent of Dodgers to China for a couple of exhibition games, and Lasorda would be filling in for Torre with the squad left behind. (A Los Angeles Times story I found today said that a pair of coaches on the staff would be making most of the moves, in accordance with Torre’s wishes, and Lasorda was fine with that.)
Until Tony La Russa was hired this offseason to manage the White Sox, Lasorda was believed to be the first Hall of Fame manager to return to the post after retiring. He got right back into the groove, arguing a call at first base in the second inning.
From the L.A. Times story:
Never mind the fact that [first-base umpire Damien] Beal made the correct call. When the crowd reacted with boos, that was all the invitation Lasorda needed to rush the umpire, gesticulating wildly as the fans went wild.Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2008
You can see the fans loving it in the background of my photo at the top of this post. They’re recording it on their cameras, throwing their heads back in laughter, standing for a better view, pointing at the spectacle. My favorite might be the father in the top left corner, clapping as he leans over to say something to his son, probably about Lasorda’s long career and legendary status.
The Dodgers batter who was called out at first, James Loney, even has a smile on his face as he watches next to Lasorda.
“I was listening,” Loney said, according to the L.A. Times. “He kind of surpised me when he came out. He was arguing, he was yelling. He was giving it to him. It’s Tommy though, you know? You’ve got to win.”
Lasorda himself admitted he knew what he was doing, saying, “They’ve always liked that when I’d go out and start arguing. Put on a little show.”
With the Dodgers set to leave Dodgertown for good at the end of that month, having Lasorda on the bench for a few more games was a fitting way to end the team’s long tenure in Florida.
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The other Tommy Lasorda memory I have is from the 2004 All-Star Game, when he caught up with family friend Mike Piazza before the game. I always thought I got a nice moment here.