Garagiola was so impressed—or so stunned—that he restaged the performance, complete with Lasorda's tombstone, on a pregame television show.
Like Elmer Gantry, when Lasorda is not saving Dodger souls he can be found busting disbelievers' heads. His reputation as a brawler was such that when he was made manager at Ogden he had to promise he would not start any fights. Lasorda managed to stay out of trouble until the first inning of the first game.... "But I didn't start it," he says.
There were plenty of others he did instigate. The best fight, he recalls, happened in 1957. Then playing for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, Lasorda came off the mound after a bunt by Spook Jacobs of the Hollywood Stars to throw a body block on the runner going to first. "I knew the guy wanted to run me down," Lasorda says, "but I got him first, and all hell broke loose." Then there was the time during the 1953 Winter League World Series in Cuba when he threw at a batter a few times before finally hitting him in the middle of the back. "I thought he was going to first base, then I looked up and he was charging me with a bat in his hand," Lasorda says. "I didn't even have a ball to throw at him, and he was so big there was no use punching him. Just as he started to swing the bat, I threw my glove in his face and tackled him." In fact, Lasorda did such a good job defending himself against his larger opponent that he became a local hero. The next day Cuban soldiers escorted him to President Batista, who asked, "Is there anything we can do for you?"
"No," said Lasorda. "Just let me pitch to him again." When Lasorda got his chance, he knocked the player down again. The poor fellow never said a word.
On another occasion, Lasorda's manager in Denver, Ralph Houk, asked him to start a fight to put some fire into the team, which was trailing two games to none in a best-of-seven playoff. Lasorda obliged, and the Bears came back to win. "Actually, Ralph didn't have to ask me because I was thinking the same thing myself," he says.
These rough edges still cause concern within the Dodger management and even Lasorda shudders at a few of his escapades. "Tommy John asked me once what I would do if I ever had a player like myself," Lasorda says, "and it scared the hell out of me."
The Dodgers put aside their doubts about Lasorda because aggressiveness was one attribute they were looking for when they sought a replacement who could beat the Cincinnati Reds at their own game. "It was time for Walt to retire," a front-office man says. "He was starting to let things slide among the players and becoming too conservative on the field. We needed Tommy's fire."
Lasorda's style on the bench will be the Dodgers' style on the field. "We're going to be a better, more explosive, wide-open club," says Yeager. "More guys may get thrown out at the plate, because we're going to do a lot of running. We're going to take it to the opposition, cause them to make mistakes and then take advantage of them."
To execute this attack, Lasorda has already told each player what he expects for the coming season. He wants Garvey to hit more home runs and Yeager to try for five hits a week to right field to boost his batting percentage. To improve the team's running game, he will let Lopes steal on his own, and he has moved the speedy Russell to second in the batting order.
The only question that remains is the kind of relationship Lasorda will have with his players. As a minor league manager, he was an older brother, eating, drinking and palling around with his athletes. Now he may have to withdraw from the players who came up through the system with him, so that he cannot be accused of favoritism. Rightfielder Reggie Smith, who was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade, says, "If you want to create a test for the man, it would be how well the guys perform who never played for him before and don't know him as well."