Lasorda often defends his players—publicly. Privately, however, he will blast them face-to-face as he sees fit. He has an amazing ability to quickly dispose of negative situations. He strokes the egos of his players with little props, such as the celebrities he brings to the clubhouse. He tells his players whatever they want to hear, whatever makes them play their best. A Dodger scout says, "The first time I met him I thought he was full of it. But he believes half the things he says. Players think he's crazy, but they believe in him."
Butler believes. Lasorda has worn number 2 since he became manager. When Butler, who has worn number 2 most his career, joined the Dodgers, Lasorda told Butler he could have 2. An appreciative Butler took 22 instead.
Strawberry believes. When it is suggested that he and his new teammates may have trouble melding their personalities, Strawberry retorts, "The people who say that have wishy-washy minds. They should be focusing on what's going on in their lives, in their minds, instead of what's going on here. Anyway, with Tommy Lasorda around, you don't have to worry about chemistry."
Says Lasorda, "It's my job to get them to put forth all the effort they have. To do that, you have to let them know they're appreciated. They want to know that. When I took over with four games left in the '76 season, I called [outfielder] Reggie Smith in my office and told him, 'I just got this job as manager. It's a dream come true for me. I want to do good. I need your help.' He looked at me and said, 'No one ever told me that before, that they needed me.' The next year, he hit 32 homers."
Lasorda's greatest managing performance may have occurred last year, when he won 86 games with an injury-riddled team. "I made them believe, even when we were 14 games out," he says. He achieved more with less. This season, he has a lot, but must achieve it all.
"Every year is a big challenge. This year is no different," Lasorda says. "I've had great clubs before. So we've got some guys from other organizations. It's my job to band them together, to build up togetherness, spirit and that family attitude. I have to make them proud to wear that uniform."
If he can, the L.A. Story could run well into October.