Lasorda returns to Dodgers’ bench on 84th birthday

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Tom Lasorda sat down on the dugout bench in his No. 2 white jersey as the media closed in on him for a pregame chat. His piercing blue eyes were clear and he spoke with the same strident tone.

Yet there were signs that 15 years had indeed passed since he managed the Los Angeles Dodgers. The uniform fit a lot more snugly and his hair had turned pure white.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Lasorda’s desire to win another game.

“I want to manage,” he said. “I got 1,599 wins. Win this one and we’ll be 1,600. It’s very, very important to me.”

Actually, he was back on the bench Thursday night as an honorary coach under rookie manager Don Mattingly in a game against the San Francisco Giants, a gesture extended by the team on Lasorda’s 84th birthday. The Dodgers won 8-2.

“They played hard, they played great,” Lasorda said afterward. “It was a great night. It was fun.”

Lasorda delivered the lineup card to the umpires and then spent much of the game standing next to Mattingly along the dugout railing.

“He was telling me stories all night,” Mattingly said. “He was into the game the whole night.”

Organist Nancy Bea Hefley led the crowd in a singalong of “Happy Birthday.”

“It feels great,” Lasorda said. “This is something I never thought, never dreamed it would happen and it happened. I’m so grateful. My family’s enthused about it. All my friends are calling me from all over the country. I didn’t think I was that much missed.”

Lasorda retired in 1996 as one of just five major league managers to guide the same team for 20 years or more. His tenure included two World Series titles, four National League pennants and eight division titles. The Dodgers haven’t been back to the World Series since their 1988 title under Lasorda, whose office used to overflow with pasta and red sauce after games.

He’s is in his 62nd season with the franchise and currently serves as special adviser to team owner and chairman Frank McCourt.

Lasorda got dressed at his own locker between Juan Uribe and Jerry Sands in a corner of the clubhouse. Standing nearby, slugger Matt Kemp took one look at Lasorda in full regalia.

“I got to swag you out,” Kemp said, reaching over to unbutton the top of Lasorda’s white jersey.

During batting practice, Lasorda and Mattingly leaned on the cage talking. Occasionally they were interrupted by a member of the Giants organization who embraced Lasorda.

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