Happy 35th to Tommy Lasorda's Dodger blue rant on Dave Kingman
Earlier this month, I celebrated round-numbered anniversaries of two great managerial rants that were captured for posterity, namely the 30th anniversary of Cubs manager Lee Elia's tirade against Wrigley Field fans and the 20th anniversary of Royals manager Hal McRae's phone-throwing tantrum. Since good things come in threes, fans of those Not Safe For Work classics can take this opportunity to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Dodger blue postgame assessment Tommy Lasorda gave to slugger Dave Kingman's three-homer performance against his team on May 14, 1978. To watch the video, click here.
At the time, Lasorda was in just his second full season as Dodgers manager, but he had already become something of a star for his antics as the team's third base coach under mentor Walter Alston as well as his friendship with Frank Sinatra and other Hollywood luminaries; Sinatra sang the National Anthem on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium in 1977 to celebrate Lasorda's ascendance. That team went on to win 98 games and the NL pennant, and Los Angeles was off to a solid 18-13 start — and en route to another pennant — when it faced Kingman and the Cubs.
A well-traveled slugger who had averaged 28 homers a year from 1972-1977 — splitting that last season between four teams — Kingman had signed with the Cubs as a free agent over the winter, but he was struggling along at a .207/.261/.378 clip and had even ridden the bench for two games before homering in the Cubs' May 13 loss to the Dodgers.
He broke out in a big way the following day. After collecting a single off Dodger starter Doug Rau in the fourth inning, he hit a two-run homer off Rau in the sixth to make the score 3-2. In the seventh, he drove in a run on a bases-loaded forceout to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead. In the ninth, he hit a two-run shot off reliever Mike Garman to tie the game at 7-7, and in the 15th, he cranked a three-run blast off Rick Rhoden that held up as the margin of victory in the Cubs' 10-7 win.
Given that three-homer, eight-RBI day — all of them key runs in a five-hour extra-inning epic that ended with a Dodger loss — you can understand why Lasorda was in such a foul mood when asked by a reporter, "What did you think of Kingman's performance?"
No doubt Kingman's hat trick also conjured up still-fresh memories of Reggie Jackson's three-homer performance in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, and of Lasorda being obligated to face the press after the Yankees won the World Series that night. If you listen to the clip long enough, though, the Dodger's manager does offer a grudging appreciation of Kingman's showing, and an explanation for his hot-headedness, while the reporter concedes that he maybe didn't ask the best question. The Dodgers made it back to the World Series again in 1978, and three years later Lasorda guided them to their first world championship in 16 years. In all, Lasorda won four pennants and two World Series in a career that lasted until mid-1996 and culminated with his election to the Hall of Fame. Lasorda uncorked more than a few other blue tirades — this 1982 Kurt Bevacqua one is a keeper, and five of his rants wound up on the classic Celebrities at their Worst audio bloopers compilation — but the Kingman one was arguably his best.