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SS: Tommy Lasorda & The Montreal Royals: Walkie-Talkie Lasorda

Walkie-Talkie Lasorda

Topps baseball card for future Hall-of-Famer Tommy "Walkie-Talkie" Lasorda

Montreal Royals legend Tommy Lasorda pitches his way into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball legend Tommy Lasorda knows a thing or two about miracles.

In his final appearance with the Montreal Royals in 1960, struggling against the Buffalo Bisons, the lefty starting pitcher loaded the bases with nobody out. Royals manager Clay Bryant wanted to yank Lasorda, but 33-year-old Lasorda ignored Bryant and instead gazed up at the sky and prayed for something – anything – to get him out of the jam.

Lasorda remembers the moment like it was yesterday. "I looked up and said, ‘I never asked you to get me out of a jam before but I’m askin’ you now.’ Billy William the ump says, ‘Come on!’ And I said, ‘Wait a second, I’m talkin’ to God!’"

As described by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, what happened next was something of a miracle: "The next batter hit a line drive that caromed off third baseman George Risley’s glove into the mitt of the diving shortstop Jerry Snyder’s glove. Snyder flipped it to second and it was relayed to first to nail a pair of stray runners. Lasorda’s last pitch with the Royals resulted in a bases loaded triple play!"

Lasorda beams when he is reminded that, with 107 wins in nine seasons, he is the winningest pitcher in the history of the Montreal Royals, the fabled Triple A franchise of the Brooklyn – and later, Los Angeles – Dodgers. The Royals launched the careers of everybody from Sparky Anderson and Gene Mauch (also the Expos’ first skipper) to Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson, the man who broke pro baseball’s colour barrier with the Royals in 1946.

"Montrealers opened their arms to Jackie Robinson," Lasorda remembers. "For me, he was one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever seen."

Lasorda himself signed with the Royals in 1950 at the age of 21. Today, he ranks as the all-time Royals leader in wins, games pitched (251) and innings pitched (1,461), and led Montreal to five Governors’ Cups (International League Championships) from 1951 through to 1954, and in 1958. He won the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher Award in 1958 for compiling an 18-6 won-loss record with five shutouts.

Lasorda later went on to great fame and fortune managing the L.A. Dodgers for 20 years, and today, after almost six decades with the franchise, remains a special consultant to team chairman Frank McCourt.

But for his years with the Royals, Lasorda on June 24 will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I had a great love for Montreal," Lasorda recalls. "I used to eat in Little Italy. I lived off of Jean-Talon [Boulevard] on Waverly. [Then, in the days of Jarry Park] if you hit a homer over the left field fence it would roll down Waverly. I always wanted to live in Montreal [year-round] but the winters were just too cold."

One of Lasorda’s favourite memories at Delormier Downs, the 25,000-seat stadium the Royals called home, was when "they had a day for me… Usually [Montreal] had days for hockey players. I remember The Rocket, Doug Harvey, Toe Blake, Butch Bouchard and Jean Beliveau. One time I was eating with goalie Jacques Plante in a restaurant called the Chicken Coop and he was drawing something [on a napkin]. I said, ‘What’s that?’ He drew the first hockey mask. He said, ‘I want a mask like your catchers wear.’"

Plante, in 1959, became the first goalie to regularly wear a mask.

It was also around this time that Montreal Star sportswriter Al Parsley coined Lasorda’s nickname, "Walkie-Talkie" Lasorda. "He gave me that name because I did a lot of hollering," Lasorda laughs.

Lasorda turned down a three-year contract in 1975 to manage the Montreal Expos. ("I would have made $50,000 my first year with the Expos," Lasorda told Baseball Digest. "I was making $18,000 with the Dodgers [but] I loved the Dodgers and wanted to stay with them.") But he would do a whole lot more hollering coaching the Dodgers.

One such moment came at the Big O in August 1989 when Rick Dempsey hit a homer off Expos pitcher Dennis Martinez to give the Dodgers a 1-0 win in the 22nd inning. Most memorably, Lasorda also had Expos mascot Youppi tossed from the game in the 11th inning – the first time a mascot had ever been thrown out of a major league game.

Lasorda remembers the crowd went absolutely nuts. "But Youppi was making a racket on the dugout roof. So I just reached over and pulled him down!"

(Youppi returned in the 13th inning wearing pyjamas and carrying a pillow and went to sleep on the home dugout roof.)

When the Expos moved to Washington, D.C., Lasorda says, "I was very disappointed in the people who allowed it to happen. I tried to warn them: Build a [new] stadium and keep baseball in the city. You couldn’t follow the flight of the ball [in Olympic Stadium]. The Expos would have been better off staying at Jarry Park. They would never have lost [the team there] because they could draw [fans] there."

Montreal may no longer be home to the Royals or the Expos, but the city still remembers its baseball heroes. And Lasorda is looking forward to attending his June 24 induction ceremony at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

"I wouldn’t miss it for the world," Lasorda says. "If the good Lord spares me."

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  • by Ronny Pangia - June 1, 2006, 8:19 am

    It’s no surprise Tommy Lasorda is inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Lasorda has always been one of the most well-known and beloved figures in baseball. It’s also nice to see him talk about Montreal and his love for the city. He was there when baseball was in its prime in Montreal with open-air baseball at Jarry park and the huge crowds. Corporate obligations forced us to move to the Big Owe and remove our beloved Expos from the city but the memories still remain.
    Thank You Lasorda for being a class act and for truly loving hte sport. Thanks to the Royals and Expos for all the great baseball during the years.

  • by Mark St Pierre - June 1, 2006, 6:37 pm

    Well, Tommy Lasorda is definitely one of the pre-eminent coaches of his or any other generation – old-school and amazingly intuitive in his approach to the game but, truth to be told, known as much for his penchant for spaghetti dinners as his unassailable baseball acumen. That he has such a staggeringly rich back-story though is as entertaining as it is enlightening – I never realised just how colourful and larger than life Mr. Lasorda was or how seminal and valuable a figure he was in the storied history of the Royals franchise. Thanks Bugs for contributing big-time to my baseball edification!

  • by Jacqueline Ettedgui - June 1, 2006, 6:39 pm

    Talk about the best pitcher of the world Lasorda was. He was not only the best pitcher ; he was the most determined player!His determination payed off with a 107 wins in nine seasons
    He is a legend. A one of a kind player. If every player had his will power and determination;we would have far more incredible baseball heroes! He is an example of what a real sport player should all be about! Way to go Mr .LASORDA!

  • by Stephen Talko - June 4, 2006, 8:37 am

    Tommy Lasorda could have helped the Montreal Expos out a lot and even prevented the baseball club from leaving the city. Lasorda may have been a great local baseball player and baseball coach elsewhere but he abandoned Montreal when we needed him most. We do not even have a Triple-A franchise any more unlike the Lynx in Ottawa. Over the years baseball fields in Montreal have been turned into soccer fields at an astonishing rate. This is a sad legacy indeed!

  • by Pedro Eggers - June 4, 2006, 6:01 pm

    Do I like baseball? No, not really, if ever there was a time that I felt anything positive for this sport it has to be in that era before the monstrous multimillion dollar contracts, primadonna attitudes and rabid steroid use. Sports today is not what sports was when I was young pup. If there are any people in baseball that I still feel deserve the accolades it isn’t amongst today’s stars. There’s something humble about the older generation of players and managers, an innocence if you will, an appreciation for what they are allowed to do. Tommy Lasorda perfectly captures that generation of sports figure and deserves whatever acclaim and honor he has coming towards him.

  • by Ritesh Patel - June 21, 2006, 9:10 pm

    Was there any doubt this was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. Tommy Lasorda is one of the best coaches in history and it’s great that he speaks about montreal so fondly. Can you believe he was here so long ago? That was when Montreal was good and thriving. This is really good see and I’m happy for Tommy.

  • by marjorie spawn - September 3, 2010, 2:14 pm

    i have in my possession 2 baseballs with signatures of all the 1958 baseball team plus a 8×10 photo of the team. do u no anyone interested in buying same??

  • by Les Gelfand - September 20, 2010, 1:03 pm

    Growing up in Montreal,I was an avid Royals fan.One of the best matchups was Lasorda against Duke Markel of the Chiefs.A little known fact is that Tommy was a good hitter too.
    Thanks for the great memories Tommy.

  • by Hyman Peskin - January 23, 2011, 12:38 pm

    It should be noted that Tommy Lasorda had an explosive temper during his days in Montreal.
    As the story goes, a legendery character at Delormier downs was a an individual known as Manush -now deceased – (father of Elliot Price- sportcaster) with his booming voice would heckel Lasorda mercilessly. On one occasion , Lasorda hurled a baseball at Manush in retaliation. He missed but nevertheless the police were called. But Manush declined laying charges. End of story

  • by elie oren - February 14, 2011, 3:06 pm

    This sad tale was told to me by Ben Vogel, a well known Montreal cabbie, and a celebrity in his own right. Several year back Ben picked up Tommy Lasorda in the downtown section of Montreal and drove him to a T.V. network location. Lasorda paid the fare but failed to include a tip. As Ben put it, that does not happen very often. In view of the fact that Lasorda earned millions as the manager of L.A. Dodgers as well as considerable cash from his Sherman Oaks real estate investments, is it too much to ask if he spared the hard-working Vogel a single loonie.

    As compensation, should you be in Montreal and by chance hail Ben Vogel, please try to be extra generous with your tip.

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