Lasorda was instrumental in moving Lopes and Russell from the outfield to the infield, which kept them on the path to the big leagues. Rhoden, who was 12-3 for the Dodgers last season, calls him "the most influential person in my career. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be in the majors today. After I hurt my arm in 1974 my confidence was shot. But I played for him in winter ball, and he got me going again. If you need a kick in the pants, he can do that, and if you need a pat on the back, he'll do that, too."
"Managing is like holding a dove in your hand," Lasorda once said. "If you hold it too tight, you kill it. But if you hold it too loosely, you lose it."
Lasorda has also been known to serve up a little con with the schmaltz and pepper. Before Joe Ferguson became a catcher with the Dodgers (and later St. Louis and Houston), he was an outfielder. Lasorda sold him on changing positions by telling him about all the great catchers who had started out as outfielders—like Mickey Cochrane, Ernie Lombardi, Gabby Hartnett. "I know those guys never played the outfield," Lasorda says, "but Ferguson didn't, and it sure sounded good to him."
Like any good salesman, Lasorda motivates players mainly through the force of his own beliefs and personality. It does not take very long for a player to understand what Lasorda wants when he yells out in the dugout, "Who do you love?" or "What do you bleed?" The proper responses, of course, are "The Dodgers" and "Dodger blue." "I preach something that is good because it's the truth," he says. "I want my players to appreciate this organization in the same way that players used to believe it when they said, 'It's great to be a Yankee.' "
A few years ago Lasorda startled Sportscaster Joe Garagiola during a party at Ferguson's home by proving how well trained his players can be. "Joe," Lasorda said, "I'm going to show you something you've never seen in all your years in baseball."
"Come on," Garagiola said. "I don't think that's possible."
"O.K., just watch," Lasorda told him. Then turning to Ferguson, he said, "Joe, come over here. Get on your knees and tell me something."
Ferguson knelt down and said, "I love the Dodgers."
"And the Dodgers love you, son."
And so it went from Ferguson to Tom Paciorek to Russell to Hough to Lopes. Every one of them got on his knees at Lasorda's command and said, "I love the Dodgers."