Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Full Lasorda

I have been to a lot of baseball games in my life, but none compares to my experience in 1982 at Dodger Stadium. I got "The Full Lasorda!"

President Ronald Reagan was spending his summer vacation on his ranch near Santa Barbara, California. I had been assigned by CBS News to cover the vacation as a producer. The press operation was housed at the Santa Barbara Sheraton Hotel located right across the street from the Pacific Ocean.

Larry Speakes, Reagan's press secretary, had been invited to attend the Dodgers' night game 90 minutes away in Los Angeles. Larry asked CBS News reporter Gary Schuster, deputy press secretary Rusty Brashear and me to join him. "We're going to get 'The Full Lasorda,'" he said.

We arrived at the stadium relatively early for the game. We wanted to catch some "BP" (batting practice). Stadium security escorted us right into manager Tommy Lasorda's office. Several things struck me immediately. First of all, Lasorda was sitting behind his desk wearing a blue Dodger T-shirt dotted with food stains, a blue cap with the letters LA, and a pair of white boxer shorts. Secondly, his desk was a standard cheap steel and faux wood variety found in many offices. It was littered with papers and remnants of food (I couldn't identify the type, though). The walls were off white and barren.

"Larry, how the F*** are you doing?" Losorda bellowed.

Larry then introduced us to Lasorda. "Come on and sit down," he said, "you F***in' guys want some food?" Before we could answer, Lasorda barked out an order, "Get these F***in" guys some Chinese food!"

Lasorda was animated, hands flailing, a whirlwind of activity and bombast even when just sitting at his desk. He commanded attention. He knew how to control his team. "See this phone," he said pointing at the black push button device on his desk, "it's the only one in the club house." He explained that no one could make a call without his permission. A rookie player popped his head in and asked to use the phone. "Not now," Lasorda responded, "come back later."

With a devilish grin on his face, Lasorda turned his head our way and said, "see that F***in" rookie, I got him good." He could barely contain himself as he explained, "that F***in" kid was doing terrible, couldn't hit." With a smile he said, "so I was in the bathroom stall taking a s*** and I told one of the coaches to send the rookie in." Lasorda points to the door, "so the F***in' rookie comes in the John, stands in front of the stall and says, 'you wanna see me coach?" Lasorda's hands are now waving in the air, "I said, when I say I want to see you, I mean right here in front of me!" He laughs, "so the F***in" rookie is standing right in front of me in the stall and I am taking a s*** and farting like crazy, and I am giving him hell." Lasorda then shakes his head, "can you believe it, stupid F***in" rookies!"

The Chinese food arrived and was placed on his desk. A full mouth of food does not keep Tommy Lasorda from speaking his mind, although we had to listen carefully as some words were swallowed with the dumplings. Just then Dodger broadcaster and former major leaguer Rick Monday walked in. "How the F*** you doing Rick," Lasorda spurted, "want some Chinese?" It was a special thrill for me to meet Monday because he once was my favorite when he played center field for the Chicago Cubs.

Lasorda put his pants on and took us for a tour of the stadium. Our first stop was a batting cage under the stands where Dodger second baseman Steve Sax was taking some batting practice. As we approached, Lasorda stopped us short to quietly tell us a story. "My brother owns a restaurant in Phiily, and we were in town to play the Phillies," he begins. "You see this F***in* guy," pointing at Sax, "he couldn't hit a F***in" thing." That devilish grin reappears, "So my brother put a real pig's head in his hotel bed, right on the pillow, with a sign that read, 'you better start hitting or your dead!'" It was a scene stolen from the movie "The Godfather." We then walked over to the batting cage and Lasorda asked Sax how he was doing. Then, without missing a beat, "Hey Saxie, did you ever find out who put that F***in" pig's head in your hotel bed in Philly?" "No skip," Sax said, and he continued taking BP. As an aside, Lasorda said, "can you believe that guy hasn't figured it out yet!"

Lasorda led us out on the field in time for some Dodger infield practice. We stood along the third base line as he shouted out insults to his players. "You throw like a F***in' girl," is a typical example. I wasn't quite sure whether the players were really laughing at his lines; they must have heard them every day. But it was thrilling to be standing on the infield grass of Dodger Stadium.

We found our way back into the clubhouse and Lasorda's office. "Get us some F***in pasta," he exclaimed. Within minutes the food arrived and we were eating again. Tomato sauce splattered on his T-shirt; thank God he wasn't wearing his uniform. We all talked baseball; his wise observations were peppered with rich invectives. We heard a few off-color jokes and other pithy comments. "Well guys, I'll have you taken to your F***in' seats now," he said. We found ourselves in the sixth row, to the left of the foul screen on the third base side.

The game was great. But the Dodgers lost a close one on a miscue. What do you say to the manager after a close loss like this? We went back to the clubhouse but soon discovered there was no need for us to say anything. Lasorda had just the right words, "F***in' son of a bitch, we blew it." He bled Dodger blue.

Lasorda took us to the private club atop Dodger Stadium. There we met his wife, family members and friends. We drank wine and ate, of course. He regaled us with funny baseball stories (none of them was PG). Everyone laughed as if it was the first time they had ever heard these stories. A photographer took a group photo, which Lasorda later autographed. Soon he passed out copies of his latest book and signed each book with a personal message. "To Joe, you and the Dodgers are great!" "To Larry, you and the Dodgers are great!" Etc. We all then said our thank yous and good byes to Lasorda, and then headed back to Santa Barbara laughing all the way.

Tommy Lasorda retired as manager in 1996. The current Dodger manager is the venerable Joe Torre. I bet things have changed dramatically in the Dodger locker room. There will never be another manager like Tommy Lasorda. I will never forget this once in a lifetime experience. So thank you Tommy Lasorda.

And thank you Larry Speakes.

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