Tommy Lasorda’s 81-year-old eyes darted from one end of the room to the other as he walked through the Brooklyn Baseball Museum at KeySpan Park.
Moments after Lasorda was inducted himself into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame by the museum’s curator, Marty Adler, he was experiencing a flashback. Lasorda thought back to the mid 1950’s, to the team he broke into the Major Leagues with after a nine-year minor-league career.
Finally, after making his way through the Brooklyn Dodgers’ shrine, the charismatic and affable legend suddenly stopped and was transfixed by the image of an in-his-prime Jersey Joe Medwick wielding a bat over his broad shoulders.
“That guy can hit right there,” he said, pointing to the photo.
To his left, there was an entire section devoted to Jackie Robinson, from the day he broke the color barrier to his infamous steal of home in the 1954 World Series. A timeline of the team’s history was to his right. Framed jerseys hung in all corners, pictures of former Dodger greats like Sandy Koufak and Duke Snyder, Johnny Podres, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella. Near the front of the room was a replica of the 1955 World Series championship banner, signed by, among others, former Dodger Ralph Branca, Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell, and The Boys of Summer author Roger Kahn.
“It’s a great fraternity,” said Lasorda, who was given a plaque and a white Cyclones jersey commemorating the day. “When they called me and told me, I was so thrilled. It’s something special.”
Lasorda, dressed in a tan suit, white dress shirt, black pants and shoes, joined the who’s who of Dodger greats, although he pitched just 13 innings in two seasons for Brooklyn, honored as much as a lifetime achievement for what he accomplished as a manager and executive with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Adler labeled Lasorda a “baseball ambassador.” He was simply pleased to join the prestigious Hall of Fame, his 14th altogether.
Lasorda fondly recalled his time in Brooklyn. There was the day he and teammates Don Zimmer and Podres cleaned up at a prize stand along the Coney Island boardwalk, winning the entire collection of toy poodles. When they returned days later, the vendor turned them away.
“We know who you are,” the guy told them. “You’re Dodgers.”
Lasorda still remembered his first appearance in the bigs with the Dodgers, Snyder in center field, Reese at shortstop, Leo Durocher in the dugout. He threw batting practice the day of Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, Brooklyn’s only championship. He threw a curveball identical to that of Yankees southpaw Whitey Ford, who had previously flummoxed the Dodgers.
“I have to take credit for that win,” he cracked, later adding: “I was on that ’55 club most of the year and you couldn’t find a better club than that. There was a ton of talent, but they never made a mistake.”
Lasorda, of course, is best remembered for what he accomplished after his days as a player. He managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for 20 seasons, from 1977-96, winning eight division titles, four National League pennants and two World Series crowns (1981, 1988) and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. He helped guide Team USA to Gold medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics and served as vice president and interim general manager for the Dodgers.
Sixty years after joining the Dodgers organization, Lasorda is still working with them. As special advisor to the chairman, he attends virtually every home game and serves as a motivational speaker to several of the club’s minor-league teams.
It all started for him in Brooklyn, after working his way to the majors. The two seasons were memorable, and set in motion his future with the organization. To reside alongside all the Brooklyn stars touched Lasorda.
“I’m grateful,” he said, “and I’m honored.”