LOS ANGELES — Flamboyant ex-Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda, recently elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame, once had an audience with the president of the United States. If you know Lasorda, whose mouth opens and closes more times a day than all the refrigerator doors in Los Angeles, the reverse was probably true.
Lasorda, along with former Chicago White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox and shortstop Willie Wells, who starred in the old Negro Leagues, will be formally inducted into the "Hall" on Aug. 3 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Now a Dodger vice president, Lasorda is in his 47th year with the organization, including 20 as the team's field manager.
In the 1980s, the Dodgers put their logo on four divisional titles, two National League pennants, and two World Series championships. Overall, Lasorda won seven divisional titles.
Asked the secret of his success with the Dodgers, Lasorda replied: "I'm with the best organization in baseball. I owe everything to the Dodger organization and my players. I have never hit a home run for the Dodgers. I have never even driven in a run. I don't catch the ball and I don't throw the ball. Any manager who gets wrapped in his own importance makes a very small package.
"When you say you're a Padre, people think you just became a parent. When you say you're a Cardinal, they tell you to work hard because the next step is pope. But when you say you're a Dodger, everybody knows you are in the big leagues. Nevertheless, it's the players who win the games, not the manager."
Lasorda has been the subject of almost as many rainy day baseball stories as Casey Stengel - most of them true.
The late owner of the Dodgers, Walter O'Malley, was impressed years ago when he heard that one of his young minor league managers said: "When I die I want my tombstone to read: 'Dodger Stadium was his address, but every ballpark was his home.' "
O'Malley had Lasorda ushered into the club's press room during spring training in 1968. Walter, wearing his best leprechaun grin, presented Tommy with a marble tombstone with Lasorda's chosen epitaph. Equal to any occasion, Lasorda thanked O'Malley and then told the club owner that he wanted to continue working for the Dodgers even after he (Lasorda) was dead and gone!
"And just how do you intend to do that?" O'Malley asked. "Just hang the National League schedule on my tombstone every year," Lasorda replied. "After people are through visiting their loved ones in the cemetery, they can come by my grave and see if the Dodgers are playing at home or on the road that night."
Lasorda has become famous for his frequent motivational speeches that usually end in a standing ovation. Tommy's "pressure" speech is one of his best. "I don't believe in pressure," says baseball's Elmer Gantry. "Let me tell you something: Pressure comes from within, when you're afraid of failing. I never talk about failure. I always think the Dodgers are going to win. All my life, I have created only positive pictures in my mind."
As for Lasorda's gift from O'Malley, Tommy probably has the only two-car garage in Fullerton, Calif., where a couple of cans of motor oil keep company with a Dodger tombstone.