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Tom Lasorda

August 24, 2010

This weekend I caught most of an episode of Silver Spoons that centered on baseball cards. I don’t make a habit of watching episodes of Silver Spoons, but for reasons I am no longer in contact with I watched plenty of episodes of the show when it first came out back in the early 1980s. I was a teenager by then and should have had better things to do than watch a “heartwarming” sitcom about a little rich kid and his “zany” father (the theme song alone should have caused me to sprint screaming into the night), but I guess I didn’t. What was I supposed to do, push-ups? Homework? My evenings then, as now, as ever: television. Hence, at an age when in another time and place adolescent Indian braves of yore were traipsing through the wilderness purified by fasting and prayers in search of life-defining visions, I was watching Silver Spoons.

However, possibly because underage drinking and other mind-altering substances swooped in to spirit me slightly away from television for a while, I missed the episode a few seasons into the show’s five-year run that featured Ricky (Ricky Schroeder) and his grandfather (Academy Award-winner John Houseman a couple roles away from The Final Curtain) scheming to make a killing with baseball cards.

The mention of baseball cards is what stopped me on my tour through the channels. Though the scheme the robber baron grandfather hatched was pretty ludicrous (noticing that his grandson has cornered the market on Tommy Lasorda cards, he drives up the value of the cards by starting a rumor that Tommy Lasorda is about to be voted into the Hall of Fame), it’s interesting to me that the episode aired when the baseball card industry was reaching its peak, and the skyrocketing value of cards was making kids into savvy, merciless businessmen. I had stopped collecting cards by then, so I missed out on being inside the bubble of card prices that seemed for a while as if it would expand forever. It must have been exciting, but I think it would have made baseball card collecting a little nerve-wracking for me. With my cards, I wanted to dissolve away from the world and enter another world. If I was constantly worried about whether to “invest” in, say, Pat Listach or Gregg Jefferies, I think I might not have enjoyed it as much, or found as much comfort in it, because I’d still be present, capable of losing, instead of disappearing altogether into the world of the cards.

This Tommy Lasorda card at the top of the page was from the group of manager cards in the 1978 set. I liked these cards for the long listing of mostly underwhelming minor league stats that is on the back of almost all of them. Lasorda is no exception, toiling for many years in the minors with only enough cups of coffee in the majors to compile an 0 and 4 record with a 6.52 ERA. He did have some big years in the minors, though, mostly with the Dodgers’ affiliate in Montreal, for whom he played for eight seasons. He seems to have been an overachiever as a minor league lifer: He didn’t strike many guys out, and he walked guys a lot, and somehow he usually won more games than he lost. I wonder if he started to get bitter that The Call never really came. It seems particularly cruel that he was shipped to the Dodgers’ minor league affiliate in Los Angeles in 1957 (where he was a teammate of both legendary minor league slugger Steve Bilko and fellow future manager Sparky Anderson), and then when the Dodgers themselves came to Los Angeles the following year they sent Lasorda back across the continent to Montreal. I imagine him on a mound in Montreal in early April, freezing his nuts off, using some colorful language as he dwells on Dodger golden boy Sandy Koufax, who in an earlier season took Lasorda’s place on the major league roster.  

At the end of the Silver Spoons episode, Tommy Lasorda makes an appearance. He has a whole bunch of cards of himself, which will “flood the market” and drive prices back down and make official the restoration of innocence that Ricky already started moving toward when he gave back the money he’d fleeced from his friend. I believe the last line of the episode is Lasorda’s, saying something like, “Hey, did you hear? I’m a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame!” He actually did make the Hall, but it was twelve years after the episode aired. I don’t think he thanked John Houseman in his acceptance speech for getting the ball rolling. I also have to think he refrained from the colorful language that, in this day and age of the ever-present recording device, has given Tommy Lasorda two lives, one being the sunny, wholesome Dodger Great shown on the front of the 1978 card at the top of this page (and in the 1985 episode of Silver Spoons), the other being an incredibly foul-mouthed accidental entertainer of the YouTube generation. I have to admit that the latter is by far my more favorite of his two incarnations, in part because he is clearly one of those people blessed with the ability to use obscenities with operatic gravitas and gusto, and also because the latter Tommy Lasorda persona seems to be the one connected with its vitriol and bitterness and also its vivid life and its unadorned humor to that more interesting personal life story, the one present on the back of his 1978 card, the life of the marginal itinerant far from sunshine and Cooperstown. 

26 comments

  1. I decided to buy gobs of Ty Griffin cards when he was drafted by the Cubs way back when in the mid-80′s; that was the beginning and end of my days as a card investor.


  2. I love how your posts are educative, serious, and lol amusing all at the same time. I had no idea that Tommy LaS emerged so seemingly full blown from such an underwhelming yet still worthy career in the minors. Your posts are brilliantly written and so complete, and this is one of your best ever in my opinion. That exquisitely crafted final sentence (aka peroration) sums it all up and sends me straight to youtube. thanks again for this great experience in continuing education.

    http://www.watchingthegame.typepad.com/


  3. Fletch: “Hey, is that you and Tommy Lasorda?”
    Corrupt police chief: “Yeah” (smiles)
    Fletch violenty punches picture, shattering frame to the floor –
    Fletch: “I hate Tommy Lasorda.”


  4. Oh yeah, he was also on a ‘Police Squad’ ep as well as a ‘Fantasy Island’ ep (managing Fred Lynn, George Brett, Ellis Valentine, and Ken Brett). In that ep Gary Burghoff (Radar O’Reilly) strikes out Fred Lynn, who quips “And I though Nolan Ryan was tough.”


  5. Thanks for the kind words, jljchatham.

    joshorjoshua: That Fantasy Island episode came up in some other post on this site, but I can’t remember which one. Burghoff’s loopy pitches had cartoony slide-whistle sound effects.


  6. Capitalism + baseball cards = one of my least favorite combos.

    Something that should be for kids big and small tarnished by the desire to make a buck.

    Cards are still too expensive but it’s good to see the cost knocked down from the insanity of the 90s. The funny Pat Listach remark made me wonder how many people shelled out serious money for Strasburg rookie cards, now to see their investment take a Mark Prior-like turn?


  7. Finally finished the book, Josh. There was one part in the chapter on Dwight Evans that really resonated and I don’t believe was published anywhere other than the book. I remember that DeCinces error late one nite after midnite. I was listening to that game on the radio with my brother. With God as my witness, I called that error before Castiglione did. It was eerie. I looked up the boxscore of that game once. It ended on a balk.


  8. I attended a talk by Bill Buckner last year and he had several Tom Lasorda anecdotes. Each one ended with Tommy saying ” It made me want to go slit my throat with a razor” which must have been one of his non x-rated catch phrases.


  9. The third incarnation of Tommy was the one I grew up with on The Baseball Bunch: “The Dugout Wizard.”


  10. Btw has anybody head Tommy’s opinion of Dave Kingman’s performance? (After the King blasted 3 hrs)?


  11. in the mid-1980s, my sister’s weaselly boyfriend decided he’d get in good with me by convincing me i could make a mint selling some of my baseball cards. he told me i should start putting the more valuable ones in plastic cases, which i hated doing, ’cause i go back to the days of flipping cards and playing all kinds of other games with them (like wristing them toward the school wall, closest one gets them all). but i listened to him, and after he sold a pete rose card for fifty bucks, i decided to stop. it just wasn’t worth it; the memories that the pete rose card dredged up in me were worth a lot more than fifty dollars, as evidenced by my obsession with cardboard gods. plus, i hated the dude and didn’t want to be around him anyway. fortunately, my sister soon felt the same way.

    here’s a clip that includes lasorda on silver spoons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6PIBt1SjjI


  12. I always remember the “sports episodes” of shows most of all. With Spoons, when I think of specific episodes, I always go right to “jacket day at Shea” followed by the one where Rick needs the Jets to win by 4, which he passes off as meaning “4:00″– little does dad know he’s actually bet on the game and the current three-point lead shall not suffice. I should have paid more attention when they were…predicting the future!


  13. Wow, I didn’t mean for that second one to embed….


  14. I prefer the Don Drysdale Brady Bunch episode myself as long as we are beginning to channel Masterpiece Theater here.


  15. Ha, same goes for the Bunch (Brady, not Baseball). I always think of Namath first, then Wes Parker, Drysdale, Deacon Jones….


  16. True story: In late winter or early spring of 1995 (it was some time in either February or March…but it was definitely 1995) some friends and I were in Dallas, TX to participate as groomsmen in a buddy’s wedding. Night before the wedding we’re having the bachelor party, nothing as dynamic as in “The Hangover”, but still a pretty good time.

    And in the restroom in a bar (can’t even remember the name of it, it was in Deep Ellum (the hipster-cool, tattoo parlor part of town) while taking a leak, one of my buds looks over and sees who other than Tommy Lasorda? Now keep in mind we were all from Atlanta so we’re Braves fans and due to all those previous years being stuck in the NL West Division have ABSOLUTELY NO LOVE for anything at all Dodger Blue…but Lasorda TOTALLY lived up to his reputation as a great guy…he assured us that there would be baseball in 1995 (remember, this when the 1994 strike nearly destroyed the game), that everything was going to be all right, and he bought us all a couple of rounds of drinks.

    The only paper I had on me at the time was a $5.00 bill, which he was nice enough to sign (I admit, a $2.00 bill -his jersey number with LA was 2- would’ve been cooler), and I gave it to my dad the next time I saw him. Not because my dad was any big Dodgers fan…just because I thought he’d get a kick out of the story.


  17. And now, dear Dodger fans, a moment of silence for one Manny Ramirez, our favorite natural born hitter and mercenary…Okay, that’s enough.


  18. One time I dialed a wrong number and heard, when the answering machine picked up, “Hi, this is Tommy Lasorda. You’ve reached (slightly muffled) what’s your name again? (back at full Lasorda) Tom and Betty’s answering machine. They’re not home right now, but you can bet they’re somewhere bleeding Dodger blue, just like me, Tommy Lasorda.” There was noise in the background, so it must have been at a party or restaurant. It made me dislike Tommy Lasorda a little less.

    It’s not really the same thing, but I noticed there’s a show called “Kent Hrbek Outdoors” on one of the sportsman’s channels. I watched for a while, and it showed Kent Hrbek doing all the things I’d imagined Kent Hrbek would spend his life doing, including spelling his last name a couple of times whenever somebody needed it for a reservation.


  19. I just checked out the Lasorda Youtube. Holy smokes! Good grief! Gee whiz! The dude needs a new thesaurus!


  20. wow that post generated a ton of comments so i finally got around to watching the youtube. omg we don’t usually talk this way around our house, but this hysterical footage really makes my day.
    i took my kids (ages 2 and 4) to Dodgertown many years ago (Mike Piazza’s rookie year), and we sat 5 or 6 rows behind those crazy hot aluminum benches they called “dugouts.” as I recall, Tommy wasn’t paying much attention to the game – he was too busy talking with a couple blondes in row 2. i swear his mouth never stopped moving. i remember wishing we could hear what he was saying, but it’s probably a good thing we didn’t.
    http://www.watchingthegame.typepad.com/


  21. I hated Tom Lasorda because he was a big fat loud-mouth cursing hypocrite. He would go into some kind of swear filled rant at a baseball game and then he would go on t.v. acting all nice and sweet selling everything from yogurt to tomato sauce.


  22. I remember the first time I heard of Tommy Lasorda. He was a 3rd base coach for the Dodgers. He was miked up on the NBC Game of the Week against the Cubs at Wrigley in 1974. C’mon Billy Buck! Lets go Billy Buck! I knew from there that this guy was running to replace Walt Alston as manager. Buckner was so reserved on his replies to the showboating coach.


  23. I don’t remember this particular episode of Silver Spoons, which is odd because the show was religiously watched in our house. My aunt and uncle took a vacation to California during the show’s first season and attended a taping… and told my mom about it via a postcard. After that, we watched every episode of Silver Spoons. Looking back, the only explanation that I have is that living as lower middle class schlubs in Detroit… this was as close as we were going to get to Hollywood.

    As far as baseball cards as a business, I grew up a few years after Josh, my first memory of opening a wax pack was from 1979. My collecting reached it’s peak at the age of 13 in 1987… and by the time I was 16-17, I was looking to buy a car, put gas in the car and do things away from home and using said car to get there… I was selling off my collection to augment my crappy minimum wage job. This worked out quite well, as the market didn’t really crash until a few years later and I made a relatively hefty chunk of change considering minimum wage at the time was $3.15 an hour.

    I was still an innocent collector until late ’86 / early ’87. I had always kept my “good” players in mylar sheets inside binders. It wasn’t that I was anal about condition, but my favorite cards had emotional value… they were on a different level, special, coveted… they weren’t going to be traded. Trades was how I got these cards. Some neighborhood kids had a favorite player or team, some kids had a casual chunk of baseball cards but they were really interested in Garbage Pail Kids or football cards or Star Wars cars or comic books… They didn’t care about All-Stars from Philly or Oakland. If I had what they wanted, then I could grow my binder collection…. and grow it I did.

    My entire baseball card world change for me when one of the older neighborhood kids introduced our little collecting sphere to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. It was like the evil white man delivering blankets infected with greed into our idyllic little world. That moment sometime in early 1987 will never leave me… it completely blew apart and rewrote my entire understanding of the financial universe… “1984 DONRUSS DON MATTINGLY IS WORTH HOW MUCH?!?! FUCK ME!!!” … I rushed home, pulled out the first binder… wrong one dammit… then I found it… four 1984 Donruss Mattingly rookies, eight or ten more between Topps and Fleer. All mint or near mint, having earned their binder spots when Don had won the MVP a year before. Nobody in the neighborhood gave a shit about Mattingly before that. A good player sure, but he wasn’t a Tiger, he wasn’t a scarce card handed down from older brothers featuring kickass 70s facial hair.. he wasn’t a 1978 Play Ball home run… He was just another card that everybody had laying around. Tens of thousands of 1982 thru 1985 cards were in our 10-15 person collecting circle… Only 1983 taking a slight hit due to a temporary fascination with Return of the Jedi cards. And during that time, one of the two corner stores down the street sold only Donruss for two solid years… 1984 Donruss were everywhere … we all considered them red headed bastards because we wished we could get our hands on more Topps… and now this single Donruss 1984 card is worth $70 each?!? Armed with this knowledge of monetary value, in 1987 four of us kids were saved our x-mas and b-day money and split a crate of wax packs at the beginning of the year. We each had hundreds and hundreds of wax packs to open at the very start of collecting season. Madness.

    After that I was indeed cutthroat. Trades dried up. Nobody wanted to get ripped off. It all went to hell… Although at the time, a few of us were very happy. I put about $400 worth of stereo equipment into my first car in 1990… and probably only had to move 10% of my “binder collection” to do it… By 1992 I was almost completely sold out.. having probably made $2500-$3000 in the process. Henderson, Boggs, Clemens, Ripken, McGwire, Mattingly… I had multiple rookies for all of them… not to mention guys that had high value at the time but are now forgotten… I made a shitload on Bobby Bonilla rookies and not even the “true” Bonilla rookies from the 1986 traded/update sets. 1987 Topps Don Mattingly could be sold to dealers for $3 a pop while 1987 Topps were still for sale! My entire investment in 1987 wax packs was paid off just selling Mattinglys and McGwires… and that’s above and beyond all the complete sets I was able to compile and sell. It was just crazy. At one point during my sell off, my mother found $600 in cash in my sock drawer, and despite solid grades and never being a trouble child, she was worried I was selling drugs or stealing car stereos.

    Looking back, it’s sad that the market forced itself into pandering to collectors and thereby ignoring the $.30 per pack kids that got the whole thing rolling to begin with…. But I was lucky to have at least turned my lost innocence into some cash. Today about the only thing left of my once grand collection are about two, maybe three thousand commons from 86 thru 88. Looking through them recently, I didn’t think at all about the money I made… I thought “jesus, that is a fucking horrible air brush job they did on this Mike Laga card” and “damn, it’s 25 years later and I still have too many Sid Breams!”. It was nice to be a kid again, even a somewhat cynical one. (wow, looking back, this is really long winded… so thanks if you read the whole thing and humored my indulgence)


  24. nunyer: That may be the best response I have read on this blog. It’s more like a blog entry of it’s own. Very funny. I had a similar experience in the late ’80′s when you had dickweeds who couldn’t tell Ed Kranepool from Ed Jurak getting into card collecting thinking they were going to make a financial killing. Hopefully they all lost money.


  25. Yeah, thanks for sharing that. Very funny that your mom thought you were dealing drugs.


  26. Thanks for the kind words guys… I just started rambling and before I knew it, ya.. I had presumptuously assumed the role of guest blogger and was eating up a big chunk of comment space.

    shealives: I’m sure a TON of those guys lost their asses. The local flea market by my house maxed out with four dedicated baseball card dealers by the time I was done selling out in 91/92… One summer home from college a few years later and only one was left… and he had largely moved into comic books by then. The market was total madness… and doing some googling over the last few days… I haven’t found a single card that I sold back in the late 80s/early 90s that is worth more today. I would guess the overall value of the market at the time was at least 200% inflated over what anybody could consider reasonable and/or sustainable levels. Much like the recent mortgage debacle… I’m sure lots of people bought in big time thinking only of the investment angle.

    Josh: Just want to say I love the blog and that my “Cardboard Gods” era is roughly the same as yours. I was lucky to grow up in a townhouse complex (they use the fancier “condominium” term today) with tons of kids my age. Many of them had older brothers who had passed down card collections. Our little circle had pretty good representation of cards dating back to 1972, with the primary historical load being 1976 thru 1980. Those were always my favorite cards. As an nine year old In 1983, it seemed like ancient history to see the 1970s. Something about the staged poses, the wacky facial hair, the glorious afros, those goofy assed White Sox uniforms… everything about the 70s cards were more appealing to me than the era which I was growing up. Having no older siblings, I traded like mad to get as many of the 70s cards as I could. I have yet to uncover it, but still stashed somewhere in my dad’s basement is a box with my few hundred Cardboard Gods of the 70s, but over the last few days of reading this blog… I’m not all that terribly concerned about finding them. I’m getting my fix already.



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