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‘He made the kids believe in themselves’: Tommy Lasorda made mark in Utah early in career

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda celebrates after the Dodgers beat the Montreal Expos for the National League title in Montreal, in this Monday, Oct. 19, 1981, file photo. Tommy Lasorda, the fiery Hall of Fame manager who guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles and later became an ambassador for the sport he loved during his 71 years with the franchise, has died. He was 93. The Dodgers said Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, that he had a heart attack at his home in Fullerton, California.
Associated Press

The Los Angeles Dodgers announced Friday morning that legendary manager Tommy Lasorda has died at the age of 93, and while his status as one of baseball’s best skippers wasn’t made in Utah, it could be well argued that it’s where it really started.

After his playing days, which spanned from 1945 to 1960 (he spent 1946 and 1947 in the United States Army) and were mostly in the minor leagues, Lasorda became a scout for the Dodgers in 1961, a job he held until 1965.

The next year, he became manager of the Pocatello Chiefs, but just a short time later, he was named manager of the Ogden Dodgers.

Lasorda finds managerial success in Ogden

These Dodgers had immediate and regular success under Lasorda, winning the Pioneer League championship all three years he was manager (1966-1968). Granted, it probably helped that the team had future household Major League names such as Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Steve Yeager, Bill Buckner and Bobby Valentine, but Ogden’s general manager at the time, Dutch Belnap, once gave a lot of credit to Lasorda for the success.

“He made the kids believe in themselves,” Belnap told the Deseret News in 1988, the day before Kirk Gibson’s iconic pinch-hit walk-off home run won the World Series for the Dodgers. “He worked a lot harder than any of the other managers.”

Added Gary Pullins, who played for Ogden and then was BYU’s head coach from 1977-2006, “He was very fun to play for. He was always looking to liven things up.”

Lasorda on Utah: ‘I like the people here’

In 2013, Lasorda was the special guest at the University of Utah’s annual team fundraiser (other guests have included Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith and Terry Francona, among other iconic figures in baseball) in Salt Lake City.

Of Salt Lake City, Lasorda told the Deseret News, “I’ve been here a lot of times to Salt Lake City. It’s a beautiful city. I’m so impressed with the streets. You don’t see streets like that anywhere. The people here are so nice — very, very nice people. So I enjoy it. I came here as manager in Ogden in the Pioneer League. Then I came here as manager of Spokane (and Albuquerque) in the Pacific Coast League. I like the people here and when you go to the ballpark you see what kind of fans that are here and they’re really good fans.”