On July 29, 1996, Tommy Lasorda announced his retirement as Los Angeles Dodgers manager at 68 years old. He was succeeded by former shortstop in the organization’s famed infield, Bill Russell, who remained interim manager for the rest of the season.
Lasorda fought back tears as he delivered the news at Dodger Stadium. The announcement came one month after he underwent an angioplasty that was required because it was determined he’d suffered a heart attack.
Lasorda thanked then-Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley and executive vice president Fred Claire for their support, and said the decision was solely his and not driven by medical reasons. Doctors had cleared Lasorda to return to the dugout.
The Dodgers were 42-35 and held a two-game lead in the National League West when Lasorda was hospitalized. They went 14-16 under Russell and fell behind the San Diego Padres in the division standings.
Lasorda transitioned into a role as vice president and has maintained close ties and an active presence with the organization since. While famously known as the player the Dodgers optioned to the Minors in order to sign Sandy Koufax, Lasorda carved out a successful career as manager.
During his 20 years as skipper, there were 185 managerial changes throughout Major League Baseball. Lasorda joined Connie Mack, John McGraw and Walter Alston as the only managers to reach a 20th season with the same club.
Lasorda was hired to replace Alston in 1976, when he retired after 23 years of guiding the Dodgers.
Although his career began with the Philadelphia Phillies as an 18-year-old pitcher, Lasorda spent 47 years with the Dodgers as a player, scout, coach or manager. He finished a lifetime 1,599-1,439-2, won eight NL West titles, four pennants and two World Series.
Although retired from managing the Dodgers, Lasorda led the U.S.A. Baseball team to a gold medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He then accepted an honorary role as third base coach for the NL team in the 2001 MLB All-Star Game.
It involved a scary moment that became a lighthearted one, when Vladimir Guerrero lost his bat on a swing. It flew in Lasorda’s direction and caused him to drop to the ground, but true to his fiery personality, he quickly popped back to his feet.
Lasorda has spent over 60 years of his life in baseball and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.