George was a friend who I admired very much. He was a giant in our game and he built an empire. All he was was a winner. He wanted to give the fans a winner, and that’s exactly what he did.
By the time Candlestick Park was closing I was already retired from managing the Dodgers. I managed the Dodgers for 20 years and my record against the Giants is 184-147, and at Candlestick 86-81. When we took that long walk from the clubhouse to the dugout, I would blow kisses to the fans. They used to get all over me as the boo’s would wring out all over the park.
The last game at Candlestick, September 30, 1999, was between the Giants and the Dodgers, and I was on hand for it. As part of the celebration of the many games played there between the rivals the Giants asked me reenact that long walk and blow kisses to the fans, and I was happy to do it.
Well, when I made that walk they were booing me tremendously. I got to home plate and there was a microphone set up for me to say a few words to the crowd.
“I finally figured it out,” I said to the crowd.
“You don’t hate me. You hate yourselves because you love me!”
And yes, the Dodgers beat the Giants that day 9-4.
Ever year Toots Shor would honor the sportsman of the year at his restaurant in New York. Yogi Berea was selected as the winner one year, and while the honor was well appreciated he had received it a few times before.
Since Yogi had won so many times in the past they didn’t know what to get him. So instead they thought they would get something for his wife, Carmen. They decided to get her a beautiful grandfather’s clock.
The big night came; they honored Yogi, and gave him the grandfather’s clock. He stayed around till early in the morning having a couple drinks and telling stories.
He finally got up to leave and picked up the grandfather’s clock. He carried it through the revolving door and outside onto the sidewalk.
As he came out carrying the clock a drunk bumped into him sending the clock to the ground.
Yogi yelled, “Hey, watch where you’re going!”
And the drunk yelled back, “Why don’t you wear a wrist watch like everybody else!”
All kidding aside, Yogi was a great sportsman, an outstanding Yankee and a true friend. He has his locker in Cooperstown, he has his place in Yankees lore, he has the respect and admiration of baseball fans throughout the generations, and he will always have my friendship.
I wanted to beat the Yankees so badly that my hate for the putrid pinstripes was palpable. They had beaten us in the 1977 World Series, and again in 1978, and all I could think about was having one more chance to beat them.
While they were hoisting trophies and taking champagne showers, we were grimacing with the thought that we were better.
While they were getting fitted for rings, we were getting suited for revenge.
But while they were partying, we were working hard to get better. While they were on the links, we were in the batting cages taking swing after swing after swing trying to wipe away the pain of Mr. October hitting three home runs to win the last game of the 1977 Fall Classic. And the pain of watching that same villainous Hall of Famer stick his hip out to obstruct a double play throw in the ’78 Classic that would give the Yankees the game. And the pain of knowing we were up two games to none just to have them win four straight.
So in 1981, my prayers were answered. As fate would have it, we found ourselves matched up against the Yankees in the World Series, and as fate would have it, we won that World Series.
How sweet it is; the fruits of victory!
This victory meant more than being the champions of the world, which is hard to do. This was a culmination of winters of hard work and summers of glory, vigorous competition coupled with bitter defeat, childhood dreams and the hopes and prayers of grown men playing a boys game.
My Yankee oddessy started when I was a young boy. Growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania, when the Yankees would come to town to play the Philadelphia Athletics, my four brothers and I, along with every other kid in our neighborhood, would cram against and old fence at Shibe Park at peer through a hole to catch a glimpse of the Yankees. My heroes were all Yankees. I wanted to play the game with the same determination and grit as guys like Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio; and, of course, the Babe.
I eventually played at Yankee Stadium with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and ’55 as a pitcher, and came out of the bullpen to face guys like Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
When I returned to Yankee Stadium in October, 1977, I returned in style. It was my first season managing the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the two biggest teams in the history of baseball would meet in the Fall Classic. We lost that series, and lost again to the Yankees in 1978. I was heartbroken each time, but proud of my guys.
My 1981 Dodgers were an exciting team. They played baseball the way it should be played, with passion, hustle desire and determination. Of course, those values were instilled into them as they developed in our farm system. Twenty one of the 25 guys on our roster were Dodger products. I managed them in the minors when they were youngsters right out of high school. I was there when Garvey made the transition from third to first, when Lopes changed from an outfielder to a second baseman, when I put Joe Ferguson behind the dish for the first time.
By 1981 these guys had been together for years, had lived together for years, had played together for years, had won together, and had by now lost to the Yankees together in two World Series. As the old baseball metaphor goes; three strikes and you’re out.
The Series was electric. We dropped the first two games but came back to win the next four in a row. In game 3 Fernando was in trouble in the fifth inning he was in a jam with the bases loaded. Everybody thought I was going to take him out. I went out to the mound and in my very best Spanish I said, ‘Oye Fernando, escuchame. Si tu no le das a este equipo no mas carreras nosotros vamos ganar este juego 8-4.’ In English it said, ‘Listen Fernando. If you don’t give up any more runs to this team we’re going to win this game 8-4.’
Fernando looked at me and said in perfect English, ‘Are you sure?’
The pitching was tremendous, and so were the position players, as we had an unprecedented tri-MVP award handed out to Steve Yeager, Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero for their outstanding, unselfish performances. The team was more than a collection of ballplayers; it was a group of brothers.
There is a saying around baseball: It’s great to be a Yankee. But Branch Rickey indoctrinated us with our own saying: I’m proud to be a Dodger. Every day managing the Dodgers I tried to instill that pride in my players, and that pride shined bright during those 6 games in the Fall of 1981. I couldn’t have been any happier for our success, or any prouder of the tremendous effort given by each player who wore a Dodger uniform that season. They earned the title Champion, and they earned it as a team.
In 1963 the Dodgers were playing the Yankees in the World Series. I was a scout in ’63, so my wife Jo and I were sitting in the Upper Deck at Dodger Stadium watching the game. I said to her, “You see that dugout down there? One day I will be managing the Dodgers in the World Series in that dugout.”
Fourteen yeas later, I was managing the Dodgers in the 1977 Fall Classic against the Yankees.
It was my first year as Manager, and I wanted to win so badly I could taste it. I dedicated myself to the Dodgers, and turned down a few offers to be the manager of other teams. I wanted that job, and I thought that my loyalty and hard work would pay off, and of course it did when Peter O’Malley and Al Campanis gave me the opportunity that I worked tirelessly to earn.
When I became Manager, 17 of the 25 players on our roster played for me in the minor leagues, and another four players on that roster had come through our system. While I was managing in the Dodgers’ minor league system, I tried to instill a few things into the players:
1) Self confidence was the first step to success.
2) Play for the name on the front of your jersey, not for the name on the back.
3) If we all get on one end of the rope and pull, we can pull the rest of the teams with us. But is one half got on one end, and the other half got on the other end we could pull all day but all we’d do is pull against ourselves.
4) The Dodgers are the greatest organization in professional baseball.
I wanted my players to be as proud of representing the Dodgers as I was. I always felt like being a Major League manager meant more than winning or losing on the field. I tried to represent the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character, as there were only 26 managers in the entire country.
If you say to someone that you are a Padre they’d ask when you became a priest. If you say you are a Twin they’d ask about your brother or sister. If you say you are an Indian they’d ask what reservation you came from. If you say you are a Cardinal they’d say work hard, next step is to be the Pope.
But when you say you are a Dodger people know right away that you are with Major League Baseball.
The word “Dodgers” is synonymous with baseball.
What I enjoyed so very much, and miss tremendously, is the camaraderie I shared with my players. We would work day and night, together, with one common goal, which was to win.
I am so thankful to each and every player for all their hard work, dedication, loyalty, and friendship. They put me in the Hall of Fame. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart for helping me live a dream for 20 years.
In the history of baseball there are only four managers to manage the same team for 20 years or more: Connie Mack, John McGraw, Walter Alston and myself. I am so proud of that, and so thankful that my players continued to give me the opportunity to manage by playing so hard for me.
People ask me if I miss it, and of course I do. But, I am more grateful for the 20 glorious years I managed the Dodgers, and will always cherish the memories from living a life doing what I loved to do.
Oh yeah, and on my last day in ’96, we beat the Astros 4-3!
If you are ever in Boston and you are tired of the clam chowder, or just want a plate of pasta, go to Ristorante Fiore.
I was just in Boston for the series we played against the Red Sox, and I went to Fiore four times because it was so good.
Fiore built this restaurant with his bare hands, and he puts the same attention and care into everything that comes out of his kitchen. I had pasta, of course, but I also had his eggplant parm, which was amazing.
Oh, and if you really have a craving for seafood, have the seafood platter as it is stacked with shrimp, oysters, calamari and huge crab legs.
I was so fortunate to be friends with Ted Williams. I loved Ted, as he was an outstanding player and a great friend. One of my favorite memories of Ted was when he called me to let me konw that I was to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I thought I was the only guy who loved you in Cooperstown,” he said. “But I was wrong, everybody here loves you. Congratulations, welcome to the Hall of Fame.”
Over the years we had many great times togeter. Once I asked him about one of my players who needed some help hitting.
“Ted, I’ve got a player who can’t hit the high fastballs. What should I tell him to do?”
“Tell him not to swing at them,” he said.
During Spring Training one year I brought him to Dodgertown in Vero Beach. I introduced him to the players and the coaches, and before the game they introduced him and of course the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Although he’s gone, I will always remember him as one of the greatest hitters that ever lived, and of course as one of my greatest friends.
I am auctioning off spots at a private dinner with me to raise money for ThinkCure, the Dodger’s official cancer research charity.
The dinner is on August 26 at Osteria Mozza, but we are auctioning now.
Here’s the menu!
Bufala Mozzarella with Prosciutto di Parma
Nancy’s Chopped Salad
Coach Farm Goat Cheese Ravioli with Five Lillies
Garganelli with Ragu Bolognese
Beef Brasato with Polenta and Horseradish Gremolata
Salt Baked Sea Trout & Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary
Piccolo Budino Caldo di Cioccolato
Selection of 2 Flavor of Daily Housemade Gelati/Sorbetti
And yes, we are serving Lasorda Wine!
They’ve named bridges after people.
They’ve named buildings after people.
But I grantee you’ll be a lot happier eating the Tom Lasorda Special than you will driving through the Lincoln Tunnel!
Come have dinner with me at Osteria Mozza. We are auctioning off spots to a private dinner with me for ThinkCure.
The bidding has started, but ends Monday night, and all the proceeds go to ThinkCure, which is the Dodger’s official cancer research charity, which means the money you spend is tax deductible.
It’s the perfect Father’s Day gift.
And they will be pouring Lasorda Wine!