(ATR) An icon of Olympic baseball and the United States Major Leagues, Tommy Lasorda, has died at the age of 93.
Tommy Lasorda is the only manager to win both a World Series and an Olympic gold medal.(USA Baseball)
As a manager for 20 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he won two World Series championships, four National League titles and eight division pennants.
He was the only manager to have won an Olympic gold medal and a World Series.
Lasorda, who spent 71 seasons with the Dodgers and was able to savor his team's new crown last October, died of a heart attack Thursday night, according to a statement from the Los Angeles club.
Precisely the last known public appearance of him was in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series in Arlington, Texas, where he watched his beloved team beat the Tampa Bay Rays to win their first World Series since Lasorda led them to the 1988 crown.
Lasorda was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 1997, his first year of eligibility, and the Dodgers later retired his uniform number, 2.
As a player, he was a left-handed pitcher for three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Kansas City Athletics and spent 14 seasons in the minor leagues before rising through the Dodgers ladder from player, scout, coach, manager, interim general manager and adviser.
Four years after he retired from major league management, he had the opportunity to put on a uniform again and guided the US Olympic team to the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Lasorda's team consisted mainly of college and veteran minor league players, but he approached the job with the same enthusiasm as if he had been given a Major League All-Star team.
“I told them, 'When this is all over, the whole world will know who you are. We're going to win,'” Lasorda recalled in an interview with Baseball Digest.
And they won 4-0.
In the qualifying rounds, the Cubans had won 6-1. That triumph over the United States was celebrated on the communist island with great fanfare as one of the Cuban television envoys to Australia mocked Lasorda.
But at the height of the tournament, baseball's "old fox" confirmed his infallible instinct for how to handle players. Not a few Olympic analysts compare that United States' triumph with the so-called "Miracle on Ice" of the USA hockey team at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Few gave the United States a chance in Sydney with professionals eligible at the Olympics for the first time. The Americans were expected to finish behind Cuba and Japan, and even South Korea.
Cuba had won the gold medals in Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 and managed to keep their main players on the payroll. Japan and South Korea called up players from their major leagues.
The United States did not achieve a podium in Barcelona and could barely get a disappointing bronze medal in Atlanta despite having the best team they had presented so far in international events.
For Sydney Lasorda featured a mix of minor league veterans like Ernie Young and Pat Borders and top prospects including pitcher Ben Sheets.
Lasorda insisted his players not pay attention to his critics in the media, especially after he succumbed to the Cubans in the first game between the two.
The United States had come to that game with victories over Japan, South Africa, the Netherlands, South Korea and Italy.
The Cubans had won 152 consecutive matches in international competition before losing to Japan in 1997, and in Sydney they had four wins and one loss after being beaten by the Netherlands.
That loss snapped a 21-game win streak at the Olympics for Cuba, which had split two exhibition games with the Baltimore Orioles the previous year and won the Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
Then the United States easily beat Australia and beat South Korea 3-2 in the semi-finals. Lasorda had planned out the pitching rotation to make Sheets available for a possible gold medal game. So it was.
Sheets held the Cubans to three hits in the final for gold and the United States won 4-0. Sheets would later be a major league star.
Lasorda would celebrate that triumph in Sydney as one of the top accolades in his celebrated career.
Written by Miguel Hernandez
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