Yesterday, Tommy Lasorda visited the Empire State Building and felt like he was floating.
“It was truly amazing,” the 85-year-old says in wonderment. “You go to to the top of that, and you think you’re in heaven!”
It’s a description so perfect, so typically Tommy, that the New York City tourism board should be slapping the slogan on T-shirts right now. But pitchman is just a side gig for Lasorda; the Dodgers legend was in town to light the landmark on behalf of the World Baseball Classic, which officially begins U.S. tournament play today on the MLB Network.
Lasorda has been speaking as an ambassador for the international contest, since he’s known as much for his brilliant bon mots as he is for his packed baseball resume: As manager, he guided the Dodgers to two World Series championships, four National League pennants, and eight division titles in a 20-year span, and as philosopher, he provided his players, fans, and sportswriters with enough classic quotes to run Confucius out of the ballpark.
So we collected some of Lasorda’s all-time best proverbs—on sports, on managing, on life—and asked the skipper to reflect upon each one. And what do you know? It’s still killer advice. Here’s the Tao of Tommy, revisited:
“Guys ask me: Don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you: Have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?”
“Well, those are very true words of wisdom! When a player used to tell me he was tired, that would aggravate me. How could you be tired doing something you love to do? Did you ever tell your mother you couldn’t eat because you were too tired? No! So you can’t use that word.”
“I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it. But if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”
“I said that in regards to my job. If I really got on a guy, just really belittled him and hollered at him, then I’d break his confidence. But I couldn’t let him get away with stuff, either. So you have to know when to holler at your players, and when to pat them on the back.”
“People say you can’t go out and eat with your players. I say why not?”
“There was always a standard rule that the manager would not associate with the players. But I ate with my players. I believed in them. I was very close to my players in every way. Managers today just aren’t as close with their guys. I guess it’s something that’s been handed down from generations. A guy once wrote a story about why I hugged my players. Well, why not? I needed them a hell of a lot more than they needed me. I read in a book that Christy Mathewson lived with his manager for 8 years until he got married! And that was back in the days when if you walked onto an elevator with your manager, he wouldn’t even say hello. So I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted to build a family attitude. I knew the name of every guy’s wife and every guy’s kid. Some guy told me you won’t have respect from the players if you do that, but I think that’s how you getrespect: to give it! That’s why I went to the movies, ate, and traveled with my guys.”
“Pressure is a word that’s misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started to think of failure.”
“No doubt about it. Let’s say you’re in a World Series. It’s the bottom of the ninth, and you’re beating the Yankees 4-3. It’s 2 outs. You want the guy on the field who will say to the pitcher, ‘Hey, let him hit that ball to me, and the game is over.’ Think positively instead of negatively. That’s what I did with [Dodgers pitcher] Orel Hershiser when he came to pitch for me. He was the most negative pitcher I ever had! Everything he said was, ‘I better not throw that ball there,’ instead of ‘I’m going to throw that ball there, and he’s not going to hit it.’ I changed his whole approach to life, and he went on to become one of the great pitchers. I also said to him, ‘Furthermore, I don’t like your first name! From now on, I’m going to call you Bulldog. You’re going to act like a bulldog, pitch like a bulldog, and battle like a bulldog.’ I still call him that today.”
“If you love your job, you haven’t worked a day in your life.”
“That’s true. When I got up in the morning, I couldn’t wait to get to the park. A lot of managers don’t feel that way, but I did. Because if you love something, that makes whatever you do so much easier. Some managers don’t want to go the park when they’re going through tough times. But if you go to the park when you’re winning, you also gotta go when you’re losing.”
“When we win, I’m so happy I eat a lot. When we lose, I’m so depressed I eat a lot. When we’re rained out, I’m so disappointed I eat a lot.”
“Yep, that pertains to me. That’s what I did. I’d always eat! I varied it up, though. I’d have different restaurants bring food in.”
“I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer.”
“I used to hope that I could go dancing in my uniform! I told my wife that I just wanted to be in a place where I could dance with it on. It was about pride. Let me tell you something: When I was 14 years old, I wore the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. I still remember the entire Boy Scout motto. I don’t remember the serial number of my gun in the army. I don’t remember the number of my locker in school. But I remember that Boy Scout code. If you truly love what you’re doing, that’s the greatest thing that can happen to a person.”
“If you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long, you’re up in the stands with them.”
“Haha! If you give your fans a poll—should this guy bunt here, or not?—you’ll get eight different answers. And if you do what they’re talking about, then it won’t be long until you’re up there sitting with them, because you wouldn’t be winning.”
“No, we don’t cheat. And even if we did, I’d never tell you.”
“I don’t think I said that! I might have, though. I was always hoping that we wouldn’t cheat. We had to play the game hard and fair. We lost with pride, but won with dignity.”