Is Tom Lasorda the best manager of all time?
How does one even make that determination? Wins and Losses can be a bad yard stick. Some great manager have lousy win loss totals when they don’t have the players.
Before Casey Stengel joined the Yankees he was a mediocre borderline bumbling manager. Joe Torre had one Division Title and a lot of bad to mediocre Mets, Braves and Cardinals teams on his resume before going to the Bronx. Terry Francona was just another bland former player filling out lineup cards without much success before coming to Boston.
Great managers like Jim Leyland and Dick Williams had losing seasons with bad teams. Meanwhile Grady Little got the Red Sox to Game 7 of the ALCS and Bob Brenly won the World Series.
Picking one greatest of all time could be an act of futility. Some will say Earl Weaver or Joe McCarthy. Some will point to managers who won in multiple places, like Leo Durocher or Dick Williams or Tony LaRussa.
Lasorda has some interesting points to his argument for at least making the list of the best. He bookended his career as a manager with post season appearances. That means his first full season (1977) and his final full season (1995) he had his team in the playoffs.
That straddles the first year of Free Agency and post 1994 Strike. Needless to say, nobody from the 1977 squad was on the 1995 team.
Sure he inherited a bunch of veterans from Walter Alston’s 1974 NL pennant winner. But Earl Weaver inherited Hank Bauer’s 1966 World Champion Orioles team and nobody seemed to mind.
Besides, a lot of managers take over a talented squad and fall on their face. Lasorda got a bunch of big time stars and no doubt huge egos playing in a time when they finally could cash in with other teams.
He got stars like Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Don Sutton, Reggie Smith et al to play and win. While other teams loaded with superstars like the Phillies, Yankees and Reds had their share of upheaval, the Dodgers had remarkable consistency.
The teams that made the World Series in 1977, 1978 and 1981 were remarkably similar.
But beyond the stars he inherited, the Dodgers under Lasorda were remarkable in producing Rookies of the Year. From 1979 to 1982, LA had 4 straight Rookies of the Year. Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax all won it.
Later in the 1990’s towards the end of Lasorda’s career, he ran off 5 Rookies of the Year in a row with Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo and Todd Hollandsworth.
Sure, that has as much to do with the front office and scouting as it does Lasorda. But having a manager cultivate so much young talent and use them wisely deserves a nod.
As the 1970’s turned into the 1980’s, many of the previous decade’s superteams faded. The Pirates and Reds failed to make the post season in the 1980’s. The Yankees never won the World Series in the decade. The A’s dismantled twice while the Phillies remained strong until 1983.
The Dodgers rebuilt and did not miss a beat. The great infield of Cey, Russell, Lopes and Garvey was broken up after winning the 1981 World Series. By 1983 and 1985, the new cast of characters were back in the playoffs.
Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Steve Sax and a cast of solid young players kept the hopes up and LA in October. After a few down years, Lasorda had the year that clinched his bid to the Hall of Fame, as if it was ever in doubt.
The Dodgers, hastily rebuilt after a let down in 1986 and 1987, had a makeshift collection of young players and castoffs in 1988. Sure, they had a great season from Orel Hershiser, but lots of teams have great ace caliber performances from their number one starter.
The Dodgers had to face the Mets and the A’s in the post season. The Mets won 100 games, had superior firepower and depth and won Games 1 and 3, both started by Orel Hershiser and his closer, Jay Howell, was suspended.
The Dodgers had NO BUSINESS even seeing a 6th game, let alone winning the series. But without a closer, Lasorda improvised in extra innings, finally calling on Hershiser to close out the game.
They pushed the series to seven and had Hershiser close it out with a shutout. On to Oakland to face the 104 win A’s. Oh yeah. He got his closer back but Kirk Gibson was hurt along with Valenzuela and John Tudor and eventually Mike Scioscia. Their clean up batter and number 2 batter combined for 3 regular season homers.
Everyone remembers the Gibson homer. Few remember that Lasorda and the Dodgers managed to walk through a minefield to keep the game a 4-3 affair going into the 9th to set up the homer.
And Lasorda pitted Tim Belcher against Dave Stewart in Game 4. Every button he pressed worked. His punchless hitters, Mickey Hatcher and Mike Davis, matched their regular season home run production in 5 World Series games. And he leaned on embattled closer Jay Howell who gave him a 2 1/3 inning save.
He outfoxed Davey Johnson and Tony LaRussa for his second and greatest title.
Sure he was a showman and a self promoter. What is wrong with that? He was fun, boisterous and behind the scenes swore so much he would make Joe Pesci blush.
But he won with stars, developed two entire generations of super stars and if management kept Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza, who knows how many more post Lasorda titles would have been won.
Was he the best manager ever? Tough to say. But he deserves the consideration.