July 29, 1996: Tommy Lasorda’s farewell as manager
By Mark Langill
Today is the 20th anniversary of Tommy Lasorda tearfully walking away from his dream job, although the description and duties always varied by the hour.
But just as noteworthy as his on-field success was Lasorda’s love of the spotlight, playing the roles of carnival barker, motivational speaker and commercial pitchman. His office was always the center of activity for both players and celebrities, because Lasorda made sure it was always stocked with food.
When Lasorda suffered a heart attack hours after the Astros-Dodgers game on June 23, 1996, he expected to return to his post. Bench coach Bill Russell, the longtime Dodger shortstop being groomed as Lasorda’s eventual replacement, held down the fort until Lasorda’s return. At the time, Lasorda’s heart attack was just a minor setback for a 68-year-old who, given the chance, would fight Superman and expect to win.
Lasorda had complained of abdominal pain and angioplasty surgery revealed a coronary artery that was at least 75 percent blocked, along with an ulcer. Team president Peter O’Malley held the door open for a return, but Lasorda eventually experienced a unique feeling as he approached the target date for his return — fear. Could he still muster the same passion in the dugout and not worry about his health?
The decision to retire and become a team vice president due to heath reasons on July 29, 1996 became the perfect ending to the Lasorda Era that began on September 29, 1976 when he replaced 23-year manager Walter Alston. Neither Lasorda nor O’Malley needed to worry about the inevitable “quit or be fired” scenario for other managers and coaches in sports. During Lasorda’s tenure, there were 210 managerial changes in the Major Leagues.
And although Lasorda wasn’t able to plan for a “final game” or farewell season in the dugout with the Dodgers like broadcaster Vin Scully in 2016, he pulled off an incredible encore act as manager during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Lasorda traveled to Australia with a roster comprised mostly of minor-leaguers and returned with a gold medal, after Team USA defeated Cuba in the championship game.