I called Tommy Lasorda.
No, let’s clarify that.
Tommy Lasorda took my phone call.
Man, I wish I had recorded that.
I bring this up because Lasorda’s beloved Los Angeles Dodgers are (were, thanks to the Red Sox) in the World Series, and my only connection with them revolves around the Hall of Fame manager and a shortstop, Dave Anderson, who played (mostly) poorly for the Dodgers in the 1980s. Anderson starred at the University of Memphis (then Memphis State University), where I was a student and sports editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Helmsman.
Anderson’s MLB claim to fame happened in the 1988 World Series — though “fame” is a bit of a stretch. Remember Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run in Game 1 against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley? Lasorda knew Gibson was warming up in the batting cage and testing his gimpy leg, and the manager didn’t want the A’s to know. So he sent Anderson — a career .242 hitter — to the batter’s box, essentially using the light-hitting shortstop as a decoy.
In the opening seconds of this video, you can see Anderson walking back to the dugout and Gibson heading to the plate.
That’s Dave Anderson.
Kind of famous for not playing in a game. In fact, he made only one appearance in the ’88 World Series despite playing regularly for much of the summer. In Game 3, a 2-1 Oakland win, Anderson pinch hit for DH Mike Davis and struck out.
That summer, though, Anderson spent two months as the Dodgers’ full-time shortstop because of an injury to Alfredo Griffin, who was sidelined after taking a Dwight Gooden fastball off his hand. Anderson, a two-time all-conference infielder and 1981 All-American for the Memphis Tigers, deserved some hometown coverage.
So I called the Dodgers.
I was 21 and had never had anything published in any newspaper other than The Helmsman. (I started an internship that fall at The Birmingham News, but still.) My mixture of naivety and cluelessness was profound.
The Dodgers’ PR office patched my call through to the clubhouse. Someone answered — Gibson? Orel Hershiser? — and yelled for Anderson. (Imagine the scene: “Hey, Anderson, some moron wants to talk to you!”) For a few minutes before a July afternoon game, the former Memphis standout gave me a mostly pedestrian interview about his role as a replacement starter that summer.
One-source feature stories stink. I still had to get Lasorda.
The Dodgers’ PR staff did something unfathomable today — it gave me Lasorda’s telephone number in his Dodger Stadium office and told me to call the following Sunday before a home game against the Houston Astros. Thirty years later, I’m still flabbergasted that the Dodgers so easily issued someone they didn’t know — a dumb kid from Memphis — Lasorda’s private number.
On Sunday, July 31, 1988, at the suggested time, I phoned Lasorda. The Dodgers hadn’t told him to expect my call, which led to the inevitable awkward opening when a student journalist introduced himself and explained why he was cold-calling. Lasorda didn’t hang up. (I was shocked.) And we spoke for a few minutes about Anderson and how he was performing for the eventual World Series champs.
A few hours later, the Dodgers beat the Astros, 6-1, behind Hershiser’s 15th victory. Anderson, batting eighth, went 0 for 4.
I have no recollection of what Lasorda told me, other than it was mildly positive. I can’t find a copy of my story. (It’s been 30 years. Who keeps that stuff?) And I guarantee neither Lasorda nor Anderson remember any of this.
Anderson played out his career with the Dodgers and Giants and coached the Memphis Tigers baseball team for four seasons in the early 2000s, going 104-116. “One of the greatest shortstops in Memphis baseball history,” as the school’s athletic department describes him, didn’t turn out to be a great college coach. This season, he was on Buck Showalter’s staff with the Baltimore Orioles.
He’s still kicking. At 91.
Maybe I should call him again.