By: Andrew Giangola
It’s been said that Tommy Lasorda, who passed away at 93, was a Dodger from the bottom of his cleats to the top of his blue ball cap.
The legendary baseball manager and personality who spent 71 seasons with the same organization may have had proverbial “Dodger blue” coursing through his veins, but the dirt on his cleats wasn’t only from the ballpark.
Lasorda was a great friend and ambassador of the PBR. With Jeff Robinson, he co-owned a bucking bull named Deja Blue, who was half of one of the most notorious and buzzworthy stunts in the sport’s history.
While the bull had a solid record in allowing 19 rides in 88 attempts for an average ride score of 88.16, he’d attain national recognition when NFL star Chad OchoCinco attempted to ride him in Duluth in 2011.
OchoCinco lasted under dos seconds. He was fortunate not to be stomped.
“It’s a tough, tough assignment,” Lasorda said at the time. “We want the people to know how tough it is to ride on a bull for or 8 seconds.”
The Pennsylvania native, who coached the Dodgers to two World Series titles and four National League pennants, would regularly attend PBR events in Anaheim and Las Vegas to watch Deja Blue buck.
He marveled at the combination of guts and skills required to ride an elite bull.
“I can teach a bull rider to play baseball,” he would say. “I can’t teach a baseball player to be a bull rider.”
Lasorda was one of the most charismatic and colorful figures in sports dating back to the Dodgers’ Brooklyn roots.
He was full of piss and vinegar, and his passion, sense of humor, work ethic and aversion for suffering fools was a good match for the rugged, rebellious, straight-talking cowboys who, despite getting on an animal who could kill them, never got above their raising.
“Tommy would get up in the morning full of beans and maintain that as long as he was with anybody else,” Vin Scully, longtime voice of the Dodgers, said in a statement. “His heart was bigger than his talent, and there were no foul lines for his enthusiasm.”
Randy Bernard, CEO of PBR from 1995-2010, said that Lasorda, his friend of more than 20 years, loved coming to PBR events to be around the cowboys.
“He appreciated how humble, down-to-earth and genuine they were as professional athletes,” Bernard said. “Despite his lack of experience on the back of a bull, it never stopped him from giving them some boisterous coaching and advice. He was more than a legend in sports. He was so caring and charismatic that he lit up every room he entered with positive energy.”
One of those rooms was the PBR locker room.
One year at World Finals, Bernard’s motivational speaker had canceled the night before the event. Bernard called Tommy at 6 p.m., asking if he’d fly to Las Vegas to give the riders a pep talk the next night.
“In Tommy’s inimitable way, he said he was at the Italian parade in Chicago and cussed me out for not giving him more notice,” Bernard said.
Of course, Lasorda called Bernard back later that evening to accept.
He’d land about an hour before he was needed in the locker room. Security picked Lasorda up and brought him straight to the PBR CEO inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Tommy walks up, takes my cowboy hat off and puts it right on his head,” Bernard said. “He says, ‘I need this to talk to these guys today.’ I had to send someone out to get him a cowboy hat so I could get mine back!”
With an awestruck Justin McBride on one side of him and Chris Shivers on the other, Lasorda gave a patented, rousing talk to jack up the riders before they hit the chutes, which NBC Sports featured in the telecast.
Lasorda was a big fan of McBride, and he’d often compare the two-time PBR World Champion to one of the all-time great pitchers, southpaw Sandy Koufax.
“His go-to line was always: ‘Justin is the Sandy Koufax of bull riding,’” recalled Keith Cartwright, then the senior writer and editorial director for PBR.com.
Lasorda’s words have stayed with McBride.
“Anytime you get a compliment from a legend of another sport comparing you to yet another legend, those things can mean more to you than any of the awards you get,” McBride said. “There’s nothing like the respect of giants.”
Today, we mourn the loss of an irreplaceable giant who greatly respected PBR, with the feeling absolutely mutual.
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