Forget Hall of Fame, Lasorda is in Smithsonian

The Hall of Fame was always pretty much a given, because Tommy Lasorda was as good at managing the Dodgers as he was at promoting them. But now he's hanging in the Smithsonian, of all places, for reasons even Lasorda isn't quite clear about.

One thing Lasorda was sure about was it was a great honor. Had to be, because this is a man who knows a few things about being honored.

When baseball isn't in season he hops from city to city, from one rubber chicken dinner to another. Last November alone, he made 22 appearances, 12 to be honored by one group or another and 10 to speak to one group or another.

He might not always know the reasons why, but he knows how many. He rattles them off like he rattles off stories about Kirk Gibson or the bulldog himself, Orel Hershisher.

There's the seven honorary doctorates he's been given, the 13 different hall of fames he's been inducted into. Cal Tech named an asteroid after him and, more recently the Japanese gave him the Order of the Rising Sun in recognition of his involvement in baseball in their country.

"I never realized the magnitude of it until all the Japanese in the city of Los Angeles started calling me and telling me how proud they were," Lasorda said. "Then I began to realize it was big."

So, too, is Lasorda's portrait at the Smithsonian, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery among other famous Americans. Painted by Everett Raymond Kinstler, it measures 60 inches by 50 inches and shows Lasorda in his No. 2 uniform leaning on a bat.

Tuesday was his 82nd birthday, and Bud Selig, Steve Garvey and the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, among others, were on hand to watch the unveiling. Before the portrait was officially put on display, Lasorda walked downstairs to see it for the first time.

"I just stood there and cried," he said. "It didn't just represent a painting, it represented a life that I've been fortunate to lead. Nobody ever gets the chance to lead the kind of life I have."

The Dodger part of that life began 60 years ago, and the team and its biggest cheerleader have been nearly inseparable ever since. On the phone from Washington, Lasorda recalled walking into Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., getting an upper bunk in a room he shared with five other young hopefuls, and waking the next morning to find a line of players a half a block long waiting for their turn at breakfast.

It's a story he's told a thousand times, but he's a storyteller at heart and he tells it like it's the first time. He's got a thousand other stories, too, and it's never long before he's in the middle of yet another one.

Argue if you want whether an oversized painting of an overweight manager should be in the Smithsonian. But if the puffy shirt from Seinfeld could be on display there, a puffed-up Lasorda can be, too.

He's a sliver of Americana, and there's no one else who spends each day like he does in a relentless promotion of everything that is, by his view, good in baseball. He may have manufactured much of his own PR, but there's no argument that he believes in his cause.

And don't forget - because he certainly hasn't - that he brought home a gold medal for his country in baseball in the 2000 Olympics, salvaging some American pride in its homegrown game.

"They said coaches don't get medals in the Olympics, but I told people not to feel sorry for me," Lasorda said. "I got my medal when they put it on the players, when they raised the American flag and played the national anthem."

His days in the dugout are long past, and the Dodgers have an equally famous manager now in Joe Torre. But Lasorda remains as a special adviser to Dodger owner Frank McCourt, and occasionally visits the clubhouse to give words of encouragement to young Dodger players.

The Dodgers are having a great year, and there's hope in LA that they might get to the World Series. They haven't been there since 1988, and we all know what happened then.

If not, Lasorda will gladly tell the tale as if it happened yesterday. No detail left out, from the way the clubhouse attendant signaled that Gibson was ready to hit to the way Lasorda kept him hidden so Mike Davis could draw a walk and prolong the inning.

Then there was the famous swing, and all Lasorda could do was look at the right fielder as he went back to watch the ball clear the fence.

"That's when all bedlam broke loose," Lasorda said. "I've never seen anything like that ever."

Baseball's never seen anything like Tommy Lasorda, either.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment