Dodger Blue vs. Yankee Pinstripes

I ran into an old pal on the way into Yankee Stadium Wednesday for what was the beginning of a long day with a split-admission doubleheader courtesy of Tuesday night’s rainout. None other than Tommy Lasorda had come to the Stadium to make the Yankees-Dodgers match-up official.

In his 21 seasons as manager of the Dodgers, Lasorda was a baseball writer’s best friend. He enjoyed the byplay with the press and filled out notebooks with material while he preached bleeding “Dodger Blue.” Still hearty at 85, Lasorda was looking forward to a day at the Stadium. In the lobby of Gate 2, he watched a video of Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing pitching against the New York Giants in the 1937 World Series.

Lasorda, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997, and I have worked together on a couple of Veterans Committees for the Hall. We were on the committees that elected managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams and third baseman Ron Santo. Tommy and I campaigned hard for former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, but he fell three votes short.

Tommy is also a major proponent for the election of former Yankees manager Ralph Houk, the only major-league skipper to win pennants in his first three seasons on the job (1961-63). “He was a great manager,” Lasorda said. “Unfortunately, he was here when the franchise was going through a transition, but Ralph was an important link in the years between Casey Stengel and George Steinbrenner.”

Lasorda was involved in my favorite singular memory of spring training. The year was 1990. The Yankees still trained in Fort Lauderdale and the Dodgers in Vero Beach in those days. The Yankees were in Vero, and Tommy invited me and three other New York writers – Moss Klein, Bill Madden and Joe Donnelly – to have dinner with him after the game.

I got stuck in a lengthy interview with former Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who was in his first spring with the Dodgers, and told the other writers that I would catch up with them later. We would need a designated driver anyway for the 2 1/2/-hour trek home, so I volunteered.

By the time I joined them, Tommy had explained that then Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley was throwing a luau for a contingent from Mexico and that he wanted the manager to stay on the premises.

“You can invite the writers to the luau,” O’Malley told Lasorda.

We were delighted. Vin Scully joined us, and we sat on a veranda with plenty to eat and drink (coffee for me) and listened to two of the great story tellers in the major leagues for several hours. Spring training doesn’t get better than that.

Don Mattingly’s return to the Stadium was celebrated by the bleacher creatures who added the Dodgers manager to the roll call in the first inning. Donnie acknowledged them with a tip of his cap. He did so again in the second inning when a video of his Yankees career was shown on the center field screen.

There was a sizeable number of Dodgers fans in the afternoon crowd, many cheering Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who started for Los Angeles in an all-Asian pairing with Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ Japanese righthander. Yankees fans got their first chance to drown out Dodgers fans in the bottom of the second when Lyle Overbay doubled over center fielder Andre Ethier’s head for a two-run double.

Yankees fans also got their first view of Cuban right fielder Yasiel Puig, who is off to a strong start in the majors. In the first two innings, Puig evoked the memory of two former Brooklyn Dodgers favorites from the 1940s and ‘50s, Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo.

Puig singled with one out in the first and bolted for second as center fielder Brett Gardner fielded the ball. Puig was out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but it took a perfect throw from Gardner and a perfect tag by shortstop Jayson Nix to get him.

Thomas Neal led off the New York second with a single to right. Again not taking anything for granted, Puig noticed Neal jogging to first and rifled a throw there that skipped by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez but no advance for Neal. That was a favored ploy of Furillo, particularly when pitchers got a rare hit and occasionally would get a 9-3 putout.

This is the sort of stuff long promised by inter-league play but rarely on display.

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