Tommy Lasorda, the only person to manage World Series and Olympic champion teams, has died at age 93.
Lasorda suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest at his home and died Thursday night. He was hospitalized in November and released from the hospital earlier this week, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lasorda guided the only U.S. baseball team to win an Olympic title at the 2000 Sydney Games, three years after being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lasorda is best known for leading the Dodgers to World Series crowns in 1981 and 1988 while at the helm for 21 seasons.
In 2000, USA Baseball tapped the then-72-year-old to manage a rag-tag Olympic team, the first to include professional players but none on Major League Baseball active rosters.
Bill Bavasi, then coming off a general manager stint with the Angels, was part of the group to choose the manager. At Sandy Alderson‘s direction during the selection process, Bavasi had lunch with Lasorda. He remembers the excitement emanating from the other end of the table.
“We had a lot of good [manager candidate] names, a bunch of them,” Bavasi said Friday. “Tommy’s of course was in there. He had been out of the loop for a couple of years, but he still had energy. … Sandy had the foresight to go with Tommy, and Tommy was the right guy at the right time.
“I don’t know anybody that makes a player believe in himself more than Tommy.”
Lasorda, four years removed from his last Dodgers season, said he wanted the job for three primary reasons: to serve his country, to bring a gold medal back to the U.S. — “where it belongs,” he said — and to make Americans familiar with Olympic baseball.
“I tried to tell people before I went over there, this is bigger than the World Series,” Lasorda said after the Olympics. “People thought I was wacky for saying things like that.”
The team drew obvious comparisons to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that also took an unexpected gold. It had a largely unsung roster — excluding its oldest player, 37-year-old catcher Pat Borders, the 1992 World Series MVP — and defeated the tournament favorite, 1992 and 1996 Olympic champion Cuba, in the final.
“This may have been the biggest upset since David slew Goliath,” said Lasorda, who was in tears as his players received gold medals following Ben Sheets‘ shutout of the Cubans. “I really think it was a miracle.”
In what became a routine after each win, Lasorda would get on the team bus and holler, “How sweet it is, the fruits of victory.”
The team’s story was later chronicled in a book — “Miracle on Grass.” In 2019, it was announced that a film production company acquired the exclusive rights to the story.
First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who hit a walk-off home run in the semifinals against South Korea, said the hardest part of the job for Lasorda was remembering the names of players who came from the minor leagues.
“Tommy just sat back and laughed with us,” Mientkiewicz said after the Sydney Games. “If we were going to be idiots, he’d let us be idiots. That’s what you needed when you’ve got this cast of characters we had.
“He might not have the most talented guys, but he’s going to get more out of that average guy than the other guy’s going to get out of his superstar.”
Baseball returns to the Olympic program this year for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games. The U.S. has yet to qualify.
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