Gordon Monson: Tommy Lasorda talked his way through Brooklyn, Ogden, Los Angeles, to the Hall of Fame

One of baseball’s great emissaries is gone, but he left a long trail of great stories — some of them even true

(Photo courtesy of Zack Manasian) Tommy Lasorda, second from left, manager of the 1968 Ogden Dodgers, with first baseman Bill Buckner, third baseman Steve Garvey and outfielder Bobby Valentine.

“I have one fault — I lie a lot.”

Tommy Lasorda once uttered those words, and the funniest part is that he was lying when he said them.

In his 93-year run across America’s baseball fields, a run that ended with his death on Thursday, he told a whole lot of truth.

The longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager who even longer ago managed the Ogden Dodgers for a few seasons rose up from being a less-than-notable player to becoming one of baseball’s preeminent emissaries.

I had the chance to sit and talk with Lasorda for a couple of hours three decades ago and later wrote a column for The Tribune about that experience. Here are parts of how it went, ironically enough, under the headline, “Lasorda spoke the truth, and spoke it often.”

“You have to live your dream. You’ve got to meet your challenges in life. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep going. It can be hard at times. But good things will happen, because God sometimes delays, he doesn’t deny. I lost the World Series the first two times we were in it. You’ve got to find your way through what’s possible. You’ve got to dream it, want it. And you’ve got to pay the price for success. You’ve got to love what you’re doing in life. That’s important. Everyday I get up and I thank God that I love baseball and I’ve had the chance to work in the thing I love. I love the Dodgers. They’ve given me that opportunity. And it’s a great thing. A great, great thing. Do you realize how many people go to work every day and are unhappy? Do you realize what a sad thing that is? A sad, sad thing.”

Tommy Lasorda felt like talking. Had to talk. Had to give his wisdom during an interview. And the wisdom flew all over me, like a two-hour long sneeze. A thousand Gesundheits! with Tommy. He had to tell stories. The same way he had to breathe. It’s what he does. What he’s always done. Some say he is the first man ever to have talked his way through immortality’s gates, into baseball’s Hall of Fame. He was inducted on Sunday [1997]. Talking still.

Telling the one about the time he ran into Reds manager John McNamara in the aisle of a church in Cincinnati, the morning before a game.

“I knew why he was there and he knew why I was there. After Mass, John said, `Wait for me outside, I’ll be right out.’ I watched him as he slipped off to the side to light a candle. Instead of leaving the church, I went to the other side and knelt at the altar. He left. I went over and blew that candle out. I knew one thing: He was not lighting that candle for a dead relative. … All during the game, I was yelling, `Hey, Mac, it ain’t gonna work, pal! I blew it out!’ We clobbered them that day, 13-2. Last year, Johnny Mac went to Rome, and he sent me a card. Here’s all it said: `Try blowing this candle out.’”

Lasorda could manage. His Dodger teams won 1,599 games in 20 seasons (from 1976 to 1996), four National League pennants and two World Series titles, in ’81 and ’88. But he is even better known for his nonstop ambassadorship of his game. A game that is in sorry need of ambassadorship.

During his induction speech, Lasorda expressed near — but never total — disbelief that a guy like himself could be blessed in such a manner, after such a long career, emerging from the depths of a brief playing stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers, then managing his way through the low minors, including those three years with the Ogden Dodgers in the late ’60s, to take over the mothership of baseball, relieving another Hall-of-Famer in Los Angeles, Walter Alston, and running with it, all the while, running off at the mouth.

“We’re in Shea Stadium in New York, and the Mets are honoring the ’55 Brooklyn Dodgers. I was on that team, and we’re introduced to the crowd, and we trot out to the baseline. I’m standing out there next to Pee Wee Reese, and I said to him, ‘Pee Wee, if someone told you back then, in ’55, that one guy on this 25-man roster would end up managing the Dodgers for 20 years, I’d have to be the 25th guy you’d pick, right?’ And he said, ‘Nope, you’d be the 24th.’ And I said, ‘The 24th? Who’d be the 25th?’ And he said, ‘Sandy Amaros. He doesn’t speak English.’”

But there Lasorda stood on the podium Sunday, looking for the right words, delivering 13 minutes of words, groping for the precise phrase to encapsulate what he was feeling. He found them in his last sentence.

“I am living a dream.”

Just like he told me a few years back, you have to.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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