Column: Tom Lasorda still brandishes his fighting spirit even without an opening day

The scene is as familiar as the seventh inning.

At almost every game played at Dodger Stadium, Tom Lasorda appears on the video scoreboard.

Lasorda waves. The audience serenades him with a standing ovation.

The former Dodgers manager lives for those kinds of moments. He lives to sign autographs and pose for photos, shake hands and spread the gospel of what he calls the largest organization in baseball.

Now the coronavirus outbreak has separated him from the public who worship him. On a Thursday that would mark the start of the new season, Lasorda will not be sitting in his usual chair in the owner’s box at Dodger Stadium, but with his wife in the modest Fullerton house they’ve been sharing for seven decades.

“It’s not going to be an opening day,” he said.

But don’t think for a second that Lasorda isn’t working. He did not become one of the biggest drivers of baseball by pouting through hard times.

“I’m 92,” he said, laughing heartily, “but I can still fight.”

And he is fighting, with the same infectious optimism that fed the Dodgers for their last two World Series championships.

Lasorda was available by phone and was in vintage form, his combination of exaggeration and humor in overdrive.

“You are talking to the most grateful man in the world,” said the Hall of Famer, who is a special adviser to Dodgers chairman Mark Walter.

Surprised at what is happening in the world – “I don’t even know what it’s all about,” he said – Lasorda and his wife Jo are advised to stay at home. Groceries and other supplies are provided by an assistant.

“Luckily I do have TV,” he said. “More than ever.”

He laughed again.

“I left high school, grade 11, to go to spring training with the Phillies,” he said. “I never got my degree. But I had the opportunity to live in this great nation. ‘

According to him, a life like his is only possible here.

He spent one season in the Phillies system, then served in the military for two years. His playing career didn’t go as he imagined: he played in just eight games for the Dodgers over two seasons. He played in another Major League-season, with the Kansas City Athletics in 1956 and never had a Major League-victory. To this day, he believes he has not had a fair chance.

Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda is in the dugout for Game Three of the 2018 National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.

(Rob Carr / Getty Images)

“But I said,” Something good is coming out, “he said.

Lasorda was right. He led the Dodgers for 21 seasons and won four streamers.

And that’s why he said he has kept talking to as many people as possible since managing his last game in 1996.

“I like to tell them what they can achieve,” he said. “If they want it, they can get it.”

The mission has also given him a sense of purpose.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “I would be really lost. I wouldn’t know what to do. But if I do, I get the chance to stay with the people, help the people, help the Dodgers. That’s why I’m here. “

His enthusiasm as Dodgers manager from 1976-1996 and ambassador ever since has made him one of the city’s most beloved and enduring sports figures. When he attended a Lakers competition in December, he was warmly welcomed by the Staples Center audience. The same audience did not respond when Cody Bellinger and Kenley Jansen appeared on the video scoreboard.

“I’m just telling you, I have the privilege and the honor to be here with the fans,” he said. “The fans are the best in the world. They like to come out and see the Dodgers play. We are now at a point where we cannot enjoy it. We need to get back on track. “

He is sure that a country that created a Tommy Lasorda can overcome a pandemic.

“I am privileged, I am grateful and I believe this country will come out of this,” he said. “It’s too strong, too big.”

Lasorda is also confident that baseball will be played this year. Asked if he thinks this will finally be the year the Dodgers win a championship, Lasorda exploded again with laughter.

“Hey, I say that every year,” he said. “What are you talking about?”

Still chuckling, he continued, “I’ve been saying that every year for twenty years. Nobody seems to be listening.”

Lasorda praised manager Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations.

“Those are two men I think are the world,” he said.

Lasorda once said that God could take him after the Dodgers won their next World Series. But he now has other ideas. He still likes to watch the team. He still likes to talk to people. And he is still charmed by his wife.

“I’m going to see if I can get the 120,” he said.

And for that, Los Angeles should be grateful.

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