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Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda dead at 93

The Dodgers announced Friday that Lasorda suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home.
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/ Source: NBC News

Pugnacious Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who skippered the Los Angeles Dodgers to four league pennants and two world titles, has died.

He was 93.

The Dodgers announced Friday that Lasorda suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home and was transported to a hospital, where he died.

Lasorda was last seen in public on Oct. 27 at Game 6 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas, as he witnessed his beloved Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays, capturing the organization's seventh world title.

It was Los Angeles' first World Series championship since 1988, when Lasorda was at the helm of the Brooklyn-rooted franchise.

Lasorda managed the Dodgers for more than 20 seasons, overseeing 1,599 Los Angeles victories and 1,439 defeats, a 52.6-percent winning percentage. He died holding the title "special advisor to the chairman" in the Dodgers front office.

His Dodgers captured the pennant in his first two full seasons in charge, 1977 and 1978, falling to the New York Yankees in the World Series both years.

Lasorda led L.A. to the world title in the shortened, strike-marred 1981 campaign, vanquishing the nemesis Yankees.

Arguably, Lasorda's greatest work came in 1988 when underdog L.A. toppled the powerful New York Mets for the pennant before stunning the mighty Oakland A's to win it all.

In Game 1 of that Fall Classic, Oakland led, 4-3, with two outs and no one on base, in the bottom of the ninth inning in L.A. That's when Lasorda pushed buttons, leading to one of the most memorable World Series endings in the sport's history.

First, he sent Mike Davis to pinch hit against Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, and the veteran outfielder rewarded Lasorda's faith with a walk.

Then Lasorda, called on another pinch hitter, hobbling star Kirk Gibson, who struggled to even reach home plate due to various leg injures.

The ensuing at-bat will live forever in baseball lore.

Gibson's game-winning blast into the right field bleachers prompted play-by-play man Vin Scully to famously tell NBC viewers that Saturday night: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!"

Lasorda won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 1983 and 1988. He also managed division-winning teams in 1983, 1985, 1994 and 1995 in addition to those four World Series appearances.

Tommy Lasorda, left, shares one of the Los Angeles Dodgers' World Championship trophies with former President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and Dodgers executive vice president Fred Claire, right, before the home opener at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 13, 1989.Reed Saxon / AP file

Lasorda was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and had been the oldest living member of that exclusive club.

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born Sept. 22, 1927, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, to mother Carmella Cavatto Lasorda and father Sabatino Lasorda, who came to U.S. shores from Abruzzo, Italy, via Ellis Island.

"He came here because his brothers were here and he couldn't get any work over there," Lasorda told L.A. PBS affiliate KCET in 2012. "He started working here on the railroad and getting different jobs. And then he began to work for Bethlehem Steel, which had a quarry over in Norristown, Pennsylvania. That's what he did for years."

That immigrant's love for America was never far beneath Lasorda's surface. After retiring from the Dodgers, he managed Team USA to gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Lasorda has long maintained that unlikely gold-medal run, with a team of has-beens and unknown minor leaguers, meant as much to him as any pennant or World Series title. Even though Lasorda didn't receive a medal, as the head coach, he reveled in the red, white and blue glory of victory.

"People said, 'You know, you don't get a gold medal,'" Lasorda said in the Bud Greenspan movie, “Sydney 2000: Stories of Olympic Glory."

"I said, 'I got my gold medal when I saw them putting the medal around their necks (of American players). I got my gold medal when I saw them raise that (U.S.) flag. I got my gold medal when they played the (U.S.) national anthem.'"

As a player, the left-handed Lasorda toiled as a minor league pitcher for most of his career and enjoyed cups of MLB coffee in the mid-1950s with then- Brooklyn Dodgers and -Kansas City A's.

He pitched in four games for the 1955 Dodgers, the famed "Boys of Summer" team that won Brooklyn's first and only world title.

After retiring as a player, Lasorda was hired as a scout by longtime Dodgers executive and future L.A. general manager Al Campanis.

Lasorda moved his way up L.A.'s chain of command and was the team's third base coach when he was tabbed to take over the dugout from Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston, who retired in 1976.

The colorful and often confrontational Lasorda craved the L.A. limelight and rarely passed up a chance to utter a headline-grabbing quote.

His May 14, 1978, rant — when a local reporter asked him to comment on Dave Kingman, an all-or-nothing slugger for the Chicago Cubs, who swatted three home runs that day — has been played for decades on L.A. radio, in all of its four-letter, bleeping grandeur.

He basked in the stardom and celebrity contacts he made as Dodgers manager. Lasorda hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra and once had his pal, comedy legend Don Rickles, put on a Dodgers uniform and sit with him in the dugout for the final day of the 1977 season.

The single most sorrowful moment of Lasorda's magical two-decade-long reign over L.A. came on June 3, 1991, when his only son, Thomas C. ″Spunky″ Lasorda Jr., died of pneumonia at the age of 33.

The younger Lasorda was gay and for a time, dated Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke, according to the 2011 documentary movie "Out: The Glenn Burke Story."

"He (Lasorda Jr.) was a little bit more, I think overt about" his homosexuality, former Dodgers outfielder and Lasorda protege Reggie Smith told the documentary.

"Tommy probably took him on road trips to kind of help keep an eye on him and certainly when he found out that (his son was gay), Tommy was probably one of the most disappointed people and hurt by it."

Lasorda said his son wasn't gay and insisted AIDS played no role in the tragedy.

“My son wasn’t gay,” he told GQ magazine in 1992. “No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a f---in’ monkey, too. That’s not the f---in’ truth. That’s not the truth.”

He added: "I know what my son died of. I know what he died of. The doctor put out a report of how he died. He died of pneumonia.”

Two months after Spunky's death, the perpetually optimistic Lasorda said he was grateful for the time he spent with his son.

“Every time I think about my son, I just get very, very sad,” Lasorda told the Los Angeles Times. “But you know something? If God said he would give me a son and then take him away after 32 years, I would say, ‘Damn right. I’ll take him.’ I’m glad for the time we had together.”

For decades, Lasorda was the smiling, if not boastful, face of the famed baseball franchise, bragging that he "bled Dodger blue" and upon death he'd be "the big Dodger in the sky."

Lasorda particularly enjoyed the scorn heaped on him by fans of the arch-rival San Francisco Giants. He reveled in the shower of boos and taunts hurled at him when the Dodgers would have to march from the third-base dugout at old Candlestick Park to the visitors clubhouse, oddly located down the right-field line.

Lasorda had retired by the time the Giants had built a new stadium in downtown San Francisco. But for laughs, Lasorda paid a visit to Candlestick in September 1999 when the Dodgers played their final games there — and re-created that march, just so he could blow kisses to the predictably scornful Giants faithful.

The longtime Dodgers manager even joked that he needed prayer and divine guidance in 2014 when having to present an award to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group reported.

“When I said my prayers last night, first of all I asked God for forgiveness," he said. "I said: Dear Lord, I’m going to have to give a trophy to a Giant. The good Lord said, ‘Tommy, the guy you’re going to honor is great. Outstanding manager. A manager that has been so successful, well-liked, nice, easy-going guy. For me to allow him to receive the Tommy Lasorda award, you know there’s something wrong in his dinner tonight.'"

Lasorda is survived by his wife of 70 years, Jo, and their daughter Laura Lasorda.

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