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Tommy Lasorda, baseball Hall of Famer and devout Catholic, dies at 93

TOMMY-LASORDA; MEME

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John Burger - published on 01/08/21 - updated on 01/08/21

Son of Italian immigrants, he brought Sunday Mass to the LA Dodgers and led team to two World Series wins.

Tommy Lasorda, a Baseball Hall of Famer who managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976-1996, died January 7 at the age of 93.

He suffered a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest at his home in Fullerton, California, Thursday night and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead, ESPN reported. 

Lasorda was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 following a career where he won 1,599 games, two World Series and two more National League pennants – all with the Dodgers, according to the Hall of Fame.  

A friend to presidents and Little Leaguers, a devout Catholic with a talent for rapid-fire profanity, a self-promoter who tirelessly raised funds for convents and disaster victims through banquets and speeches, Lasorda spanned several eras in baseball and — along with Vin Scully and Sandy Koufax — achieved near-mythical status among loyal Dodger fans,” the Los Angeles Times summed up.

In a 2014 interview with the Catholic Sun, the newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix, when Lasorda visited Chandler, Arizona to help raise money for a Catholic school, he said he liked being a Catholic “because of the faith. The faith is very true.”

He said that his teachers in grade school, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, “not only taught me religion, they taught me so many other facets of life.”

A nun’s prediction

Lasorda recalled that one of them, Sr. Coeur Immaculate, told him in seventh grade, “Thomas, a lot of them think you’re rowdy, think you’re a bad boy. But I don’t think you’re a bad boy. I think you’ve got a lot of good in you and someday you’re going to make people proud of you.”

That nun lived to see her prediction come true. The long-time Dodger said he corresponded with her for years, until her death.

Lasorda said that when he was the manager of the Dodgers for 20 years, he “always had a priest come in to say Mass on Sunday morning for all the Catholics” on the team. “Whoever was a Catholic came.”

When asked if he had advice for Catholics in sports, he said, “I think if you have faith in God, then God will do a lot of things for you. Go to Mass and go to confession and confess your sins. That’s what it takes to be a good Catholic.”

Lasorda is survived by his wife, Jo. The couple were married for 68 years. In 2014, the Catholic Sun interviewer asked if he had any advice for married couples.

“I think that as a married couple, you have to have faith in each other,” he said. “You have to have respect for each other and you have to have love for each other.”

Humble roots

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born September 22, 1927 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, to Italian immigrants. He got his start in pro-baseball at the age of 18 as a southpaw pitcher when he signed with the Phillies in 1945, according to the Hall of Fame. 

After serving two years in the military, Lasorda in 1948 returned to baseball, pitching in the minor league. In 1954, he made his major league debut with the Dodgers, playing with them for two seasons before being traded to the Kansas City Athletics, where he pitched for one season. 

The Hall of Fame website recounts:

After the 1960 season, Lasorda ended his playing career and became a scout for the Dodgers until 1965. He managed in the minor leagues from 1966-72, and in 1973 made his way back to the big leagues as a third base coach for the Dodgers under another future Hall of Fame manager: Walter Alston. Alston retired in 1976 after 23 years with the Dodgers, and Lasorda took the reins. By 1978, he had led the Dodgers to two straight National League championships, and became the first NL manager to win pennants in their first two seasons. After losing to the Yankees in both the 1977 and 1978 World Series, the Dodgers went on to win the World Series over the Yankees in 1981. They defeated the A’s in 1988 to give Lasorda his second World Series title.After retiring in 1996, Lasorda stayed busy working in baseball. In 2000, he managed the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team to a gold medal in the Sydney Games. “Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out?” Lasorda said. “How can you get burned out doing something you love?”

ESPN said Lasorda was a distant relative of Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, and the godfather to Piazza’s brother Tommy. MLive.com has also reported that he is godfather to Detroit Tigers player Alex Avila. 

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