Every member of the Hall of Fame — player, manager, umpire — has a brief biographical summary on the museum’s Web site.
Of John McGraw, the summary says, in part, “in his 31 years at the helm of the New York Giants, Little Napoleon’s teams won 10 pennants, finished second 11 times and took home three World Series trophies. He ranks second all-time with 2,840 wins.”
Of Miller Huggins, the synopsis reads: “He led New York to six pennants and three World Series titles, and his 1927 Murderers’ Row club, which won 110 games before sweeping the World Series, is considered one of baseball’s greatest teams.”
Of Tom Lasorda, the entry doesn’t speak quite as much of wins and titles. It calls him “enthusiastic,” and continues: “Known for his fondness of pasta and pitching, the jovial Lasorda led the Dodgers to eight division titles and two World Championships in 21 seasons.”
In truth, Lasorda didn’t manage the Dodgers for 21 seasons. He took over with four games remaining in 1976, when Walter Alston retired, and he stepped down in late June 1996, turning over the team to Bill Russell after suffering a heart attack. That actually gave him 19 full seasons. The club was playing .540 ball when Lasorda left, then improved to .580 under Russell, finally finishing only a game out of first place.
Lasorda had 12 winning seasons, six losing seasons (including a 1992 team that lost 99 games) and one .500 year. Not bad, but hardly Hall of Fame material. McCarthy, for example, never had a losing season.
In contrast to the seven World Series championships of Casey Stengel and McGraw or four of Joe McCarthy, Lasorda won two, in 1981 and 1988. His teams won the National League pennant four times. Stengel and McGraw won 10 pennants, and McCarthy won nine.
Some people say statistics don’t lie. Others say you can juggle numbers to make them prove or disprove anything. Here are some lifetime managerial winning percentages without comment. You decide what they mean:
McCarthy, 61.4 percent; McGraw, 58.9 percent; Earl Weaver, 58.3 percent; Al Lopez, 58.1 percent; Huggins, 55.5 percent; Sparky Anderson, 54.5 percent; Lasorda, 52.6 percent.
For what it’s worth, the five men who have served as Dodgers managers since Lasorda — Russell, Glenn Hoffman, Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy and Grady Little — all have higher winning percentages than he did. Nobody has yet nominated them for Hall of Fame membership.
Getting away from the numbers, recall that Lasorda was manager of the Dodgers in 1993 when they traded pitcher Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos for Delino Deshields. Martinez had been 10-5 as a 21-year-old rookie reliever with the Dodgers with an impressive 2.61 earned run average, but the Dodgers reportedly thought the 5-foot-11 pitcher was too small to be a starter. Fourteen years later, Martinez is a 200-game winner with three Cy Young Awards and a lifetime ERA well under 3.00.
Some blame that horrid trade on General Manager Fred Claire, and it is the G.M. who has the ultimate call on player moves, but few managers have been as vocal as Lasorda. If Claire had made the move without Lasorda’s approval, it’s safe to say the “jovial” manager would have leaked his displeasure to a columnist or beat writer.
Lasorda has always done well as a speaker at dinners and charity events. He’s good with names and always has a few anecdotes that draw a laugh, although one story about encountering an armed umpire in a Caribbean winter league is almost certainly a piece of fiction. But his affable reputation doesn’t stand up well alongside reports of how he openly second-guessed Russell, the man who replaced him, in press box tirades. His temper and resulting profanity-filled comments are as legendary as his appetite.
Lasorda made a lot of friends in baseball. In baseball as in any other career, friends in high places can be very helpful. Like on the Veterans Committee that voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1997, for example.