Friday, Jan. 8, 2021: The Los Angeles Dodgers issued a statement via Twitter today announcing the death of Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame manager of the team from 1976 to 1996.
According to the Dodgers, he died of a heart attack Thursday night at his home in Fullerton, Calif., and was pronounced dead after being transported to a hospital. He had been discharged Tuesday, one of many trips in and out of the hospital in recent years for heart, back and shoulder problems.
In 20 years as manager of the baseball club, Lasorda won two World Series championships, four National League pennants and eight division titles, and was famous for saying he bled Dodger blue out of loyalty to the organization.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, Lasorda was among the few remaining links to the team’s Brooklyn roots, and had spent 71 seasons with the Dodgers.
“We laugh and we cry and we mourn today, the passing of the man who represented the Dodgers more than anyone in Dodger history,” said Los Angeles Times journalist Bill Plaschke. “Tommy Lasorda was the Dodgers.”
Lasorda was 93, and tributes to the iconic manager have been pouring in, beginning with that of his beloved Dodgers.
The New York Times recalled, “Lasorda hugged his ballplayers, remembered their birthdays and the names of their wives and children, and exhorted them to achieve greater deeds,” But few obituaries have made anything more than passing reference to Lasorda’s only son, Thomas C. Lasorda, Jr., who was gay.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Over nearly three decades, Tommy Lasorda’s denial of his gay son’s identity has grown into legend. Tom Lasorda, Jr., known as “Spunky,” died of complications from AIDS on June 3, 1991 at the age of 33. Official reports in the media of the time said Spunky died of “pneumonia and severe dehydration,” and focus more on how his father would deal with managing his baseball team than with the fact that his only son was gay.
The truth may be uncomfortable, but the truth should be told, if not by Lasorda himself, then by Outsports.
We first published these details ten years ago, in a review of a documentary about another baseball icon: Glenn Burke. Here are some selected relevant portions from that story:
By Jim Buzinski Nov 3, 2010
What’s remarkable about Burke is how out he was in the 1970s. Not in a “Hey world, I’m gay” way, but in the sense that his teammates knew as did the management of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Burke’s first team, and eventually fans who would taunt him from the outfield bleachers in Oakland by calling him a “fag.” A memorable moment in “Out” occurs when it is recalled that the Dodgers – trying to stifle rumors that a popular player was gay — offered Burke $75,000 to get married. His reply: “I guess you mean to a woman?”
After turning down the Dodgers’ marriage bribe, Burke decided to hang out more and more with Tommy Lasorda Jr. (“Spunky’), himself a gay man and the son of the team’s manager, Tommy Lasorda. Whether the two dated or not is never clear, but their relationship was a direct f-you to Lasorda and the Dodgers, who presented a wholesome “family values” image. Burke was as good as gone.
“Spunky” Lasorda later died of AIDS and his father shamefully never acknowledged that his son was gay. “Out” reprints an infamous Lasorda Sr. quote from the time:
“My son wasn’t gay. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read that a lady gave birth to a fucking monkey. That’s not the truth.”
It’s telling that Lasorda was the only major living figure in Burke’s career who was not interviewed. The producers made multiple efforts to get Lasorda to talk, but were rebuffed.
We send our condolences to Lasorda’s family and the Dodgers family upon the passing of this baseball idol. As for Tom Lasorda, Jr., it may be long past the time to confront and embrace his truth, but to my mind: now is as good a time as any.