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MLB Hall Of Famer Tommy Lasorda Dies At 93

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda has died at the age of 93. Unlike most managers who moved from time to time, Lasorda spent his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. And LA was the perfect place for an outsized personality like Lasorda. NPR's Ted Robbins has this remembrance.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: In 20 years managing the LA Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda won two World Series championships, four National League pennants and eight division titles. Those accomplishments got him into the Hall of Fame. His enthusiasm made him a legend with players and fans. Here he is in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1997.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TOMMY LASORDA: This game does not belong to the owners, nor does this game belong to the players. And I'll tell you why. You could have the greatest stadium in the world and the best ball team, and if nobody goes through those turnstiles, we've got nothing.

ROBBINS: On the field, Lasorda was a workhorse. Here's former Dodger catcher Mike Piazza in an interview on Fresh Air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MIKE PIAZZA: I mean, he worked with me many hours in spring training in Dodgertown in Vero Beach. I mean, he threw balls in the dirt. And he would throw us batting practice. And Tommy, after a game, would pull the batting cage out and we'd hit after the game.

ROBBINS: Lasorda was a fierce and passionate competitor. He also had a wicked sense of humor. After one game, reporters asked him if he had told his pitchers to bean couple of light-hitting San Diego players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LASORDA: I have never, ever since I've managed ever told a pitcher to throw anybody, nor will I ever. And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn't make him throw at a [expletive] .130 hitter like Lefebvre or [expletive] Bevacqua, who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a [expletive] boat.

ROBBINS: Lasorda's colorful, outgoing personality made him a lot of friends in LA show business circles. His nickname was Tommy Lasagna for his love of Italian food. He was one of those guys who would talk with just about anyone who'd listen. Former Dodger Steve Garvey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE GARVEY: Tommy Lasorda, the P.T. Barnum of baseball, a character, the best storyteller, best entertainer.

ROBBINS: Tommy Lasorda was born in Norristown, Pa., in 1927. As a young man, he was a pitcher, but his playing career in the 1950s was unremarkable. Eventually, he became a scout, then a minor league manager and a Dodger coach. He took over as the Dodgers manager in 1976. Then, during the 1996 season, he suffered a heart attack. He decided to retire, choosing his health over his career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LASORDA: If I'm going to put that uniform on, I want to be the Tommy Lasorda of old. I'm going to be hollering and arguing with umpires and screaming and everything like I do. I can't do that.

ROBBINS: Lasorda came out of retirement in 2000 to coach the U.S. Olympic team, which won a gold medal. He became an ambassador for the Dodgers, making more than 100 public appearances a year on TV, in schools, even at the White House. Tommy Lasorda spent six decades with the Dodgers, first in Brooklyn, then in LA. He told Fox Sports he couldn't think of any better way to have spent his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LASORDA: If I could have seen God and wrote on a piece of paper what I wanted to be for my life, it couldn't have been better than this.

ROBBINS: Tommy Lasorda said he bled Dodger blue, but few people did a better job of promoting all of baseball.

Ted Robbins, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.