With the postseason started, I thought I would take a little stroll down memory lane and remember the first two seasons under Tommy.
Alston pulled the plug with two games to go in 1976 and Lasorda took over for him. He was the logical choice. He had been the manager of many of the players in the minors. The newer guys would have to get used to his style, but guys like Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell and Davey Lopes, knew how he was.
I remember seeing a clip on TV, must have been sometime in 1973 or so, I was still in the Army at the time. And the clip was about Lasorda and the kids and how he motivated them. One thing that stood out to me was he had these guys on their knees, and they would bow down and say ” I Love the Dodgers” and Lasorda would reply, “And they love you.”
Walter Alston and Tommy were 180 degrees different in their managerial styles. Tommy was a vocal motivator. Alston was the quiet man you did not want to get on the wrong side of. He had once challenged the entire team to step off of the team bus in Pittsburgh.
So when spring training rolled around in 1977, you just knew things were going to be very different. After winning his final pennant in 1974, Alston’s 75-76 teams finished a distant second to the Big Red Machine. They finished a combined 30 games back over those two seasons.
In the winter, they had sent Ted Sizemore to the Phillies for Johnny Oates, and traded Bill Buckner, Ivan DeJesus and a minor leaguer to the Cubs for Mike Garman and Rick Monday. Boog Powell was signed as a free agent, and in June they made an under the radar move that would be huge later on getting Bobby Castillo from the Royals.
But back to spring. Lasorda started having his starting 8 run in the outfield together prior to the game. This instilled a sense of unity. He also showed some of his mercurial personality when a player underperformed.
The season started on April 7th, at home, against the Giants. Don Sutton got the first win of the season and they were off and running. They won four of their first six games. From April 12th to the 20th, they had seven straight wins.
On April 16th, they went into first place with a 5-0 shutout by Burt Hooton. They would stay in first place the rest of the year. By the end of April, they were 17-3 and had a 7.5 game lead.
The lead was up to 9.5 by the end of April. The offense was led by Reggie Smith, Garvey, Dusty Baker and Lopes. Cey, Baker, Garvey and Smith would each club 30 homers or more. Garvey and Cey drove in over 100 runs each. Rick Monday had a so-so year, hitting .230 with 16 homers in 118 games.
Manny Mota was activated late in the year and hit .395 in 38 at bats at the age of 39. He and Glenn Burke, hit their only homers of the year on the last day of the season, the same day Baker hit #30.
The pitching staff was led by Tommy John with 20 wins. Sutton (14), Hooton (12), Doug Rau (14), and Rick Rhoden, (16), rounded out the starting staff. Charlie Hough and Mike Garman were the studs in the pen with 22 and 12 saves. Elias Sosa, Dennis Lewallyn and Lance Rautzhan had the other 4.
Johnny Oates, Martinez, (Teddy), and Lee Lacy were the main contributors off of the bench. Vic Davalillo hit .313 in a mostly PH role. They won the west by 10 games over the Reds and moved to the NLCS against the Phillies.
They lost game one in LA, 7-5. They won game two behind Don Sutton, 7-1 over Jim Lonborg. Game three in Philly was a 6-5 win as they scored 3 in the top of the 9th off of Gene Garber. Garman got the save.
Game five featured Phillies ace Steve Carlton against Tommy John. The game was marred by bad weather as rain fell off and on. The Dodgers managed 2 runs off of Carlton in the 2nd inning when Dusty Baker clubbed a two-run homer, his second of the series. The Phillies got one back in the 4th inning.
Bill Russell had a clutch single in the 5th that drove home the 4th run. Carlton was pulled with one out in the 6th, and John cruised the rest of the way for a 4-1 win and the NL pennant.
Next came the Yankees in the World Series. They split the first two in LA. Then the Dodgers lost the next two at home. The next game they put away early, running up a 10-0 lead that held up until Sutton gave up 4 runs in the 7th and 8th innings.
But some guy named Jackson rained all over their parade by hitting 3 homers off of three different pitchers. The Dodgers Reggie, hit his third homer of the series in a losing cause. Yanks were World Champs, and LA headed home to get ready for 1978.
Some minor changes ensued over the winter, a couple of fringe players moved on. In May they traded Glenn Burke and received outfielder Bill North. On July 1st they brought back a familiar face, Joe Ferguson, and sent Rafael Landestoy and Jeffrey Leonard to the Astros.
This season was a little different as they were nip and tuck in a tight race with those pesky Reds. They fell out of first place on May 11th and did not go back into first until the 16th of August. By the 16th of September they were 9 games in front. But they lost 9 of their last 13 to finish just 2 games up on Cincinnati.
The Phillies were once again the opponent in the NLCS. The Dodgers won the first two, 9-5 and 4-0. Back in Los Angeles, Carlton beat Sutton, 9-4. Then the Dodgers went extras and beat Phillie 4-3 in 10. Bill Russell, who had 3 hits in the game, ended it with a 2 out single.
World Series time again, and once again, it was the Yankees. This time it started in LA and the Dodgers, with the home crowd behind them, won the first two games, 11-5, 4-3. Off to Yankee Stadium, the next three were taken by the Yanks, 5-1, 4-3 in 10 innings and a 12-2 beat down in game 5. Back home again, the Dodgers just could not get untracked and they lost 7-2 as Catfish Hunter beat Don Sutton.
The Dodger offense in 78 was led by Garvey, the only .300 hitter in the lineup. Garvey Cey and Smith were the only players with 20 plus homers. Garvey had 113 runs batted in and Smith 93.
Five pitchers won in double figures, John (17), Hooton, (19), Sutton and Rau, 15 each, and Rhoden won 10. Rookie Bobby Welch won 7 and saved 3. Terry Forster led the relief staff with 22 saves.
The Lasorda era was underway. There would be some down years, a couple of really successful ones, some really memorable historical moments, aka Gibson’s homer, Orel’s scoreless streak, two world championships, countless four letter word tirades, and a showdown with the Phillie Phanatic.
Tommy was one of a kind. Highly successful, beloved by his players, laughed at by some, and respected by all.