Tommy Lasorda, the Los Angeles Dodgers longtime employee and Hall of Fame manager, was in town last week visiting the Tulsa Drillers and visiting with fans. Over a three-day period, Lasorda did two autograph sessions, a Q&A with the local media, spoke to the Drillers players and watched three ball games at ONEOK Field.
The Norristown, Pa., native signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945. Lasorda broke into the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and pitched parts of two seasons with the Dodgers and then one season with the Kansas City Athletics. He knocked around the minor leagues for 14 seasons before taking a job as a coach in the Dodgers minor league system, in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1965.
Lasorda coached and managed in the minor leagues until finally getting the job as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 – a job he held for 21 seasons. He led the Dodgers to four World Series, winning two titles (1981 and 1988).
He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee. Lasorda came out of retirement in 2000 to manage the U.S.A. baseball team that won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Lasorda admitted he misses being on the field and managing a team.
“All the time,” Lasorda said at a press conference in Tulsa. “Yeah, I do, I really do miss it. I loved it. I couldn’t wait until I got to the ballpark. I had some of the greatest guys you’d ever want to play for you.”
Because he spent so many years managing and coaching in the Dodgers organization, Lasorda knew some of his players by watching them progress through the minor league system.
“A lot of those guys played for me in the minor leagues,” he said. “When I took over the major league job, 18 of the 25 guys [on the roster] had played for me in the minor leagues. So, what I did was I got them ready to play in the big leagues, and then of course I got there myself. Together we kept winning. We won in the minor leagues, and we won in the major leagues.”
At 87, Lasorda is still very passionate about baseball and winning.
“Winning’s the name of the game,” he explained. “That game tonight, one team’s going to win, one’s going to lose. You gotta want to be the team that wins.”
During the autograph session, a gentleman told Lasorda that he’s a big Dodger fan, to which the man that bleeds Dodger Blue responded, “If you love the Dodgers, you have a good chance of making it into Heaven.”
It was amazing to watch how many people came through the autograph line that were not only Tommy Lasorda fans but really loved the Dodgers. Who knew that team in L.A. had such a following in Tulsa?
The Drillers manager, Razor Shines, feels very fortunate to be working for such a storied franchise.
“Everyone knows the Los Angeles Dodger,” Shines told me. “When that name comes up, it’s one of, if not the greatest franchise in baseball history, it’s one of the top two. I’m fortunate to be a part of it. Just the opportunities we have, like today with Tommy Lasorda. He came in to address my kids. It’s unforgettable, it’s a feeling that I can’t explain, and I’m fortunate to be in this organization.”
Shines has been a manager in the Dodgers organization since 2013 and is in his first season managing in Tulsa. He gives high marks to the Drillers management and ONEOK Field.
“It’s top of the line – this facility is phenomenal,” Shines said. “It’s one of the top minor leagues franchises as far as the facility goes in the country, and the people come out. We average over 6,000 fans a night. It’s unbelievable. I love it here. The people treat you nice. The front office here is unbelievable. The Dodgers really hit it big here. This is something they should continue to do for a long time.”
It appears, at least for the next several years, the Tulsa Drillers and the Los Angeles Dodgers will enjoy a great working relationship, with the bottom line of developing great baseball talent that will lead the Dodgers to their next World Series title.