Friday, September 22, 2006

BLOG BLAST PAST: OH, THE PROFANITY! OR, DON'T YOU DARE TALK TO TOMMY LASORDA THAT WAY!

(In honour of former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda's 80th birthday, here's an encore of a favourite post about the man, originally posted June 4, 2006.)

Alternate titles: "Tommy Lasorda Is Losing His Mind" or "How I Learned To Get In Touch With My Inner Rob Neyer."

Most of you know about heard about the famous Tommy Lasorda bootleg tape. Your Sunday sports page might even contain this Associated Press retrospective about how today is the 30th anniversary of baseball's most profane performance of all time, when the Dodgers skipper went batshit after being asked to comment on Dave Kingman's hitting.

Here's the first three paragraphs of the AP story:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -Tommy Lasorda can laugh about it now. At the time, he was dead serious.

Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Lasorda's most famous -- or infamous -- postgame tirade as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's become a cult classic on the Internet, with the Hall of Fame skipper at his most profane.

Dave Kingman had just led the New York Mets to an extra-inning victory at Dodger Stadium with three home runs and eight RBIs, when a young radio reporter named Paul Olden asked him, "What did you think of Kingman's
performance?"

However, there's some inconsistences between Lasorda's version of events and the AP's version that make you wonder -- at least if you're not old enough, or weren't sober enough back then, to remember the late '70s. Please read on.

No one disagrees about what went down in the Dodgers clubhouse after Kingman, the surly slugger, finished treating L.A. pitching much the same way he treated women sportswriters, and well, pretty much everyone else he crossed paths with.

Olden dutifully asked Lasorda the obvious question, "What did you you think of Kingman's performance?", setting off the response that launched 1,001 bootleg tapes:
"What's my opinion of Kingman's performance?! What the fuck do you think is my opinion of it? I think it was FUCKING HORSESHIT. Put that in, I don't fucking care. Opinion of his performance!!? Jesus Christ, he beat us with three fucking home runs! What the fuck do you mean, 'What is my opinion of his performance?' How could you ask me a question like that, 'What is my opinion of his performance?' Shit, he hit three home runs! Fuck. I'm fucking pissed off to lose the fucking game. And you ask me my opinion of his performance! Shit. That's a tough question to ask me, isn't it? 'What is my opinion of his performance?'"

Here's a bleeped version. Bear in mind Lasorda only holds the single-day mark for baseball profanity. The single-season standard is held by the first -- and last -- manager of the Seattle Pilots, the late, great Joe Schultz, who was quoted saying "shitfuck" 211 times in Jim Bouton's seminal Ball Four. See, baseball has records for everything.

At first glance, it checks out: On June 4, 1976, one month to the day before America's Bicentennial, Kingman had three homers and eight RBI in a New York Mets victory at Dodger Stadium. Except the Mets won 11-0, so obviously it wasn't an extra-inning game.

According to Kingman's Wikipedia page -- yes, someone has written a Wikipedia page for Dave Kingman -- Lasorda went into his rant after that game.

However, that doesn't jibe with how Lasorda tells it. Here's a transcript of Lasorda during a 2004 radio interview:
"In fact it was Mother's Day and I was to be honored. And we had a 3-0 lead and Kingman hit a three-run homer to tie it. Now, in the bottom of the 8th, we scored two runs and go ahead 5-3. With two outs Mike Garman walks Bobby Murcer. Kingman comes up and hits another home run and ties it at five to five. Now we go into the 15th inning and I gotta go into my starting rotation, and I bring Rick Rhoden in. In the top of the 15th, Kingman hits a three-run homer. He drove in all eight runs, he hit three home runs, and, I, uh, was to be honored that night by the Cystic Fibrosis organization. I didn't even want to go because I felt that if I went there and there was a security guard around and he had a gun, I would have pulled it out and shot Garman."
Here's a Lasorda quote from the AP story that moved on the wires yesterday:
"So when that guy talked to me, I was as low and depressed and dejected as you can get. I mean, we lose the game in 15 innings, I had to go into my starting pitchers, and it knocked the daylights out of me."
There's even more inconsistences between what Baseball Almanac says happened June 4, 1976 and the versions of events conveyed by the AP reporter and Lasorda. Namely:
  • Firstly, Bobby Murcer played for the Giants in 1976;
  • Secondly, Mike Garman pitched for the Cubs in '76. He joined the Dodgers in January 1977 in a five-player deal that involved a couple guys who would later torment Expos and Red Sox fans in their dreams -- Rick Monday and Bill Buckner;
  • Thirdly, Lasorda was a Dodgers coach that season; Walter Alston was still the manager. Unless June 4 was one of the four games Lasorda is credited with managing that season, something is off-kilter. How often do you see media scrums form around third-base coaches?
  • Fourthly, since when was Mother Day's celebrated in June? Granted, if I get a card in the mail to my mum by June 4, I figure I'm doing pretty well.
Kingman and Murcer were teammates with the Cubs in 1978 and part of '79, meaning they played together in the Sunday, May 14, 1978 game when Kingman, on Mother's Day, once again had three homers and eight RBI at Dodger Stadium. That game jibes more with Lasorda's telling:
  • The Dodgers did take a 3-0 lead. Kingman's first dinger was a two-run shot -- not three -- off Doug Rau in the sixth.
  • Kingman did hit a two-out, two-run homer off the unfortunate Mike Garman in the ninth, but it tied the game 7-7, and it couldn't have driven in Murcer, who was batting two places behind Kingman in the lineup.
  • Kingman didn't drive in all of Chicago's runs; reading between the lines, Buckner would have tied the game 3-3 in the seventh before Kingman, in between his first two homers, delivered the RBI that gave the Cubs a brief 4-3 lead. Murcer accounted for the other missing Chicago RBI when he hit a solo homer in the eighth. That dinger tied it 5-5.
  • Finally, in the 15th, Kingman, true to Lasorda's recollection, hit a three-run homer off Rhoden, which stood up for a 10-7 final score. Cubs win! Cubs win!

So May 14, 1978 easily could have been when Olden posed his question, and Lasorda failed to heed some advice that was popular in California at the time: Hey, mellow out, man.

So which one is it? Lasorda wasn't yet the full-time Dodgers manager on June 4, 1976 and it wasn't an extra-inning game that day, as the AP story states.

On the other hand, I've scoured Google and every reference I've come across to Lasorda's rant says it happened that day.

It's possible that Lasorda, in all his years as a sought-after raconteur, might have commingled both of Kingman's monster performances against his Dodgers into one gigantic whopper of a baseball yarn. Memory can play strange tricks on a person, especially -- and I don't mean this maliciously -- someone who is turning 79 this year.

There's also the possibility that even with all the info the Internet puts at our fingertips, that it's possible for misinformation easily spread. Someone at one reference site such as Wikipedia posts erroneous information, someone else repeats it, and so on, and so on.

When did Lasorda really say it? If you believe his version, the anniversary really isn't until May 14, 2008. If you go with what others say, it is today.

In conclusion, another Kingman-related anniversary is fast approaching.

According to this archived New York Times article, on June 23 it will be 20 years to the day since Kingman sent a live rat to Susan Fornoff, a sportswriter from the Sacramento Bee.

Now there's a retrospective that I can't wait to read.

EPILOGUE

As Lasorda's remarks about Garman and gunplay indicated, that was the final straw for him in L.A. and the beginning of the end of his major-league career. After making a mop-up appearance five days later, Garman was traded to the Expos on May 20 for young pitchers Larry Landreth and Gerry Hannahs.

The following spring, the Expos cut Garman and he never made it back to the majors. As for Landreth and Hannahs, neither ever won a game in a Dodgers uniform.

There's probably a good story in there somewhere, too.

(Big man hugs go out to Google, Baseball Almanac and Baseball-Reference.)

Mr. Sager lives in Ottawa, Ont., and spends many a night pondering baseball lore, which is to say that he hasn't a date since 2003 -- or as he puts it, "The year Roy Halladay won the Cy Young." Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca.

2 comments:

t said...

Hey there, I don't know a damn thing about hockey but thanks for covering the Lasorda, supposed 30 year anniversary of his profane rant. You're right, it's not the 30th anniversary. I'm a big Dodger fan, anyway and there's an excellent Dodger blog, www.dodgerthoughts.com in which Jon Weisman, the writer, gets to the bottom of when the rant was. Anyway, thanks for covering the story as I was looking for the rant.

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