“Dem Bums Got Class.”-Dodgers Winn Pennant on Lasorda’s 90th Birthday

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Saturday,  Sept. 23.

Call them the BrideGrooms, the Superbas, TrolleyDodgers, “The Boys of Summer,” or “Dem Bums,” those names all have been applied to the Brooklyn or Los Angeles Dodgers. A class outfit by any name is a class outfit and, as they did with Vin Scully’s retirement a year ago the Dodgers made Tommy Lasorda’s 90th birthday an extra special event.   They beat the Giants (always a good thing) and they clinched their fifth straight NL West crown-an even  better gift for the manager who could hug one of his troops in the 1970’s and it would be OK. Of those 1977 and 1978 Dodgers who almost won the World Series, and of the 1981 team which beat the hated Yankees in 6 games it was said the only way to beat them was to get them to quit hugging. Lasorda managed all those teams and many more including the 1988 Kirk Gibson Dodgers.  That was a forgettable team in a lot of ways but that one Sports Center moment in game 1 of the World Series turned the Oakland A’s of the Bash Brothers into a beaten team.

Last night the Dodgers’ patriarch and retired field general celebrated with the troops after the pennant was clinched. At a late  hour for  any of us, especially a man born when Calvin Coolidge was President,  the man born Thomas Charles Lasorda wore goggles to protect his aged eyes from the beer and champagne being thrown about like water. Especially early on, The team looked better than any Lasorda himself had ever managed, playing in a different league   than the pale competition of 2017 baseball.  This Dodger team had a 91–36 record on August 25 even though the world’s greatest pitcher Clayton Kershaw had been sidelined for the best part of two months.  Then came the collapse, starting on August 26 and reaching its nadir ironically enough on September 11.  They lost 16 of 17 in that stretch and even Kershaw’s return from injury didn’t help. Nothing did any good, and Lasorda-born just outside of Philadelphia-must have thought about the infamous collapse of the 1964 Phillies, considering he had begun his career in a Phillies’ uniform in 1945.  In the year when LBJ soundly thumped Barry Goldwater for the Presidency, the  Phillies had no time to regroup, as this year’s Dodgers did.  The modern Dodgers had built up a much larger lead than the Phillies had to work with when the Beatles invaded America. In baseball lingo, those Phillies pitchers were “Gassed,”-exhausted to you and me.  Their manager Geen Mauch had fewer horses (starting pitchers) and overused the few he had cruelly. Worst yet, the term “wild card” was used during friendly games of canasta or bridge in 1964 and formed no part of major league baseball.  More than 3 decades would pass before a wild card team-the Yankees-would participate in a playoff game. With these advantages the Dodgers began to rebuild in mid-September and won their 98th game last night along with their fifth straight NL West flag.

Tommy Lasorda was never going to reach the Hall of Fame as a pitcher-not that he didn’t try.  As a Phillies’ farm hand he struck out 25 men in a 15-inning game, driving home the winning run.  In his next two trips to the hill he struck out 15 and 13 men respectively, a feat which opened the eyes of Branch Rickey’s Dodgers.  But the jump from the minors was huge then as it is today, and even fewer men succeeded at the time.  Lasorda went 0–4 with an ERA approaching 7 between 1954 and 1956 between the Dodgers and Kansas City A’s.  He bounced around the minors until the end of the 1960 season as well as playing in Panama and Cuba.  This same man came one shy of 1600 victories as a manager and his teams over a period of 21 seasons were a combined 160 games above the .500 mark. He was a Dodger scout from 1961–65, then spent 7 seasons managing various Dodgers’ minor league clubs.He became the Dodgers’ third base coach in 1973.  After the retirement of Walter Alston who managed from 1954–76 Lasorda became manager of the Dodgers, having turned down chances to manage sooner in order to remain a Dodger.  Lasorda managed the team through the next two decades. 9 of his men became NL Rookie of the Year, 4 of them being pitchers Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo. He retired for health reasons in mid-1996.  Dodger Todd Hollandsworth won that year’s Rookie of the Year and would have been the 10th man so chosen during Lasorda’s reign. Managers need not wait 5 years after retirement to be elected to the Hall of Fame.  Lasorda got the nod in 1997 in his first year of eligibility.

While he couldn’t handle the 162-game grind anymore Lasorda wasn’t too old for adventure and to dare the impossible.  In both 1992 and 1996 the Cuban team had won the Olympic gold medal. Up to that point almost no Cuban baseball players had successfully defected and found homes in major league baseball.  The Cubans were heavily favored to win the next Olympics even without Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who fled the island in the year after the 1996 games.  In 2000 with Lasorda on their bench in Sydney, Australia the United States defeated the Cubans for the gold medal. He remained with the Dodgers through the disastrous years under the ownership of Frank McCourt who spent more money on divorce lawyers than on players. The situation got so outrageous that MLB took over briefly until decent ownership could be found and the results speak for themselves. As bad as their late August and early September was, the Dodgers remain the odds-on favorite to beat any American League contender-even the Indians whose 22-game winning streak is twice as long as the Dodgers’ longest winning streak.  If this team takes the World Series they’ll do what hasn’t been done since the first Fall Classic-win the title with both an 11-game winning and losing streak on their season’s ledger.


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