Friday, September 29
Mr. Dodger -- Red, white and blue
By Ray Ratto
Special to

  When I grow up, I want to be as lucky as Tom Lasorda. Not just wake-up-put-on-old-pair-of-pants-and-find-$500-in-pocket lucky, but hit-three-state-lotteries-on-the-same-day-while-blind-dated-with-Renee-Zellweger lucky.

Tommy Lasorda is still popular in Los Angeles -- especially after bringing the U.S. a gold medal.

We know that Branch Rickey once said that luck was the residue of design. We've heard the old one about making your own breaks. We've even been bored to diabetic comas with "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

But that still doesn't explain Ol' Tom, who has spent much of the latter third of his life French-kissed by God.

True, Lasorda has brought some ability and skill to his time in the game; he could schmooze like Ben Stein on crank, but he still has his World Series rings to wave at anyone who still doubts.

These last few months, though, have shown just how clever/fortunate the man is.

For one, he has managed to help steer the U.S. Olympic baseball team to an unexpected gold medal by beating Cuba, an achievement that would make anyone's short list of kicks.

For two, he has managed to steer himself away from the planet-destroying toxicity of the Dodger situation. While general manager Kevin Malone has been unclogging his nostrils on the team's already diminished profile in the game ... while manager Davey Johnson is preparing himself for that Day-Glo pink slip that has been two months in the coming ... while president Bob Daly stands wondering why he couldn't have been sent to another division of MurdochCo Galactic Enterprises ... while the players have emotionally prepared themselves for a horrific winter and even worse summer ...

While all this has happened, Tommy's had an 18-hour head start on his day and 7,000 miles distance from the rich, earthy funk of accelerated decomposition.

Indeed, when you think of the Dodger mess now, Tommy doesn't jump out at you as a potential suspect. Whatever he may or may not have done since his managerial career ended, he is necessarily absent now that the whole thing has fallen under the weight of its own dreadfulness.

It isn't just that the Dodgers remain mediocre. It isn't that they spent $98 million to get that way, or that they will chunk in another $10 million next year to stay that way. It isn't that they will pay for their minor league neglect well into the current decade.

It's that, well, they've become irrelevant, and that is something the Dodgers should never be.

Since the middle '40s, they have been mostly very good. Oh, they've had a few dreadful years here and there, but for the most part, they have been a force, on the field, in the boardroom and in the lunch line. A season without worrying about the Dodgers has been a rarity.

But it's now been five years of nothing -- unpleasant, disinterested, sniping, hateful nothing. Johnson's successor will be the team's fifth manager in five years; the last time they had this much trouble keeping a general in place was 107 years ago.

This is a measure of the Dodgers' finally losing their greatest strength -- stability. Since the strike year of 1994, when it became clear that Peter O'Malley had finally lost his will to be influential and the scouts ran out of consensus Rookies of the Year, the Dodgers have been essentially rudderless.

As a sidelight to this, Lasorda benefits from the absence of other riveting U.S. tales from Sydney. For one, the gymnasts came and went, won the zinc medal, and now nobody can remember their names. The women's softball team was the pre-Olympic favorite; so was the women's soccer team, and it couldn't beat Norway.

And of course, nothing about these Olympics is brought to you in real time, unless you get off on still-photo television.

Thus, Tommy fills one void while avoiding another. His 2000 has a gold medal; the one he would have had has a pile of fired cadavers piled outside Bob Daly's office. His summer has Doug Mientkiewicz rather than Mark Grudzielanek. His summer has overachievement on a global scale rather than a distant second place on a local one.

In short, luck doesn't come in a bigger size than this. As ever, Tommy Lasorda is livin' large.

Ray Ratto, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, is a regular contributor to


Sheets' pitching gets U.S. past Cuba for gold