BY RANDY SCHULTZ —
When I heard about the passing of Tommy Lasorda, my thoughts went back to an interview that Janet and I had with the Hall of Fame manager. No, none of the questions dealt with baseball.
Instead, we talked with the Los Angeles Dodgers legend and his thoughts on hockey. Yes, hockey.
The heart and soul of the Dodgers organization, talked for over an hour about the ice sport.
On one of our many visits to California, Janet and I had the opportunity to stop by Dodger Stadium to have a hockey chat with Lasorda. Sitting in his office, which overlooked the beautiful baseball diamond located inside the Stadium, it didn’t take me long to figure out how much the former Dodgers manager knows about hockey.
Lasorda was the first to tell you that he’s never skated very well. Yet, outside of baseball, he considers hockey one of the greatest sports he has ever seen. The Baseball Hall of Famer was a big fan of hockey for well over 60 years. His love of the game harkened back to his early days in pro baseball as a member of the Montreal Royals of the International League.
While Montreal was considered an outstanding baseball city back in the 1950s, it has always been a Mecca for hockey. And Lasorda was right in the middle of it.
‘The Montreal Canadiens had a great, great team at that time, especially in the mid-50s,” recalled Lasorda, who managed the Dodgers for 20 seasons. “I got to know a lot of the players who played for the Canadiens during that era.
“In fact, (former Canadiens Hall of Famer) Butch Bouchard was the president of our baseball team during that time. I got to know Toe Blake, Doug Harvey, Rocket Richard, Boom Boom Geoffrion and Jacques Plante, among others.”
Lasorda, a former pitcher during his playing days, fondly recalled his relationship with “The Rocket” Richard.
“Rocket was really a very nice and easy-going guy any time I was around him,” said Lasorda, who pitched in the Major Leagues for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics. “Off the ice he was a great guy. But on the ice was another story. He had that look that could really scare you.
“He as probably the greatest hockey player that ever played in Montreal.”
Lasorda also remembered many of the Canadiens loving baseball and trying their hand at it at one time or another.
“A lot of the guys would come out to see the Royals play and work out with the team,” commented Lasorda., who still attends many Kings games today in Los Angeles. “Those guys loved baseball. Doug Harvey was one heck of a baseball player. Jean Beliveau was another great baseball player. I believe that he was even scouted by a few baseball scouts when he was growing up near Montreal.
“Of course he chose hockey and had an outstanding (Hall of Fame) career.”
If Lasorda could have been a hockey player, what position would he have played?
“I think I would have been a rather good defenseman,” Lasorda answered. “I would have been the type of defenseman who would have been a bit more defensive in his play. I would have been the guy who would take the opponent and drive them up against the boards.
“I don’t think you would have seen me scoring too many goals.”