Lasorda leaves hall in stitches

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:09 PM ET

ST. MARYS -- As a baseball manager, Tommy Lasorda was so miserable after a defeat he would trudge back on foot to the hotel from the stadium following a road loss.

But the famous former Los Angeles Dodgers bench boss floated back to California last night on Cloud Nine after being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday at the museum site in St. Marys.

Lasorda, who spent parts of nine seasons as a successful left-handed pitcher with the Montreal Royals in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, went into the ball hall along with Intercounty Baseball League legend Ron Stead, Alberta-based administrator Ron Hayter and New Brunswick native Larry McLean, a six-foot-five catcher who played more than 800 games in the major leagues.

"I had to be here -- as a manager, you succeed because of the contributions of your players -- but I am being honoured for what I did on the mound," Lasorda said. "As I was packing at home, my wife asked me where I was going now and when I told her, she said, 'You love baseball more than you love me.' I told her, 'Yah, but I love you more than football and basketball.' "

Lasorda's gut-busting funny induction speech and CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge's witty emcee performance highlighted a sunny day for the Canadian ball hall, which earlier received a promise of $500,000 from the Ontario government to put toward a proposed dormitory on the St. Marys site.

Known best for managing two World Series winners in Los Angeles and still a loyal 57-year employee of the club, the 78-year-old Lasorda showed no sign of the long-term stress that eats away at baseball skippers while recalling the trials of leading a team without a devastating closer like Dodger great Eric Gagne, whose 84-straight saves record he likens to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

"If you won 102 games a year -- and that's a lot of wins -- you were still the most miserable person on Earth for the 60 days you lost," Lasorda said. "One time in Atlanta, we rallied in the top of the ninth to take a lead, then blew it with three pitchers making a total of $8 million. I started walking back to the hotel and a guy driving an ambulance stopped and said, 'Tommy, you shouldn't be walking alone in this neighbourhood.' I told him to get lost but he would just drive up a block ahead and wait for me.

"Finally, I just got in and he dropped me off in front of the hotel. There in the lobby was one of the pitchers who had blown the game. He saw me get out of the ambulance and started crying and hugging me because he thought his performance that day had sent me to the hospital."

Stead, who started out as a batboy for the International League's Toronto Maple Leafs and saw Lasorda pitch for Montreal many times, compared his induction -- the first for a player honoured largely for his Intercounty career -- to marching at the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg as a member of the first Canadian national baseball team.

"That was an out-of-body experience and I feel the same way today," the Chatham resident said. "It's like you know your legs are moving but can't feel them touch the ground. Being at the ballpark every day, I was able to live a boy's dream."

Stead, a lefty like Lasorda, remembered a time when Cleveland Indians GM Hank Greenberg didn't want to sign him for fear the 140-pounder wouldn't have the stamina to finish games. The promising hurler went to Gainesville, Fla., and threw 26 complete games -- one off the league record.

Hayter, Edmonton's longest-serving city councillor, saved Baseball Alberta from financial ruin and served in an international role to get baseball into the Olympics, while McLean was a hard-living battler who met his demise at age 39 when he was shot to death by a bartender.

Lasorda was given his Hall of Fame jacket by former Montreal manager Jim Fanning, who remarked how lean his old nemesis looked after years of being pitchman for weight-loss product SlimFast.

"I could lose more weight but I don't want to," Lasorda said. "It would make my nose look too big."


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