Next to His Family and His Beloved Dodger Blue, Tommy Lasorda Lives for Food—and His Restaurant

updated 07/13/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/13/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tommy Lasorda steps up 10 to the plate, takes a few practice cuts, then adjusts his equipment, which, in this case, is a napkin tucked under his chin. A napkin under the chin is the true mark of a big-league eater. "Okay," he says, and a team of waiters, as quick and efficient as so many pitching machines, serves up bowls and platters and plates. Pasta and ribs and chicken legs go flying. In no time the cleanup man has done his job.

"Deeelicious!" says the 59-year-old manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, an epic trencherman who claims that he "never met a meal I didn't like." In fact he carries a spare fork in his back pocket, just in case he runs into a dish he can't resist.

The plates he has just stopped and frisked come from the kitchen of his own restaurant—Tommy Lasorda's Ribs and Pasta—in the posh Marina del Rey section of Los Angeles. Lasorda's restaurant does not go in for fancy nouvelle cuisine. This is a Dodger blue-collar dugout, where two consenting adults can dig into major league portions of pasta or ribs or chicken for a total of $20. As host, Lasorda doesn't actually prepare the food, but he does cook up a happy atmosphere. "It's not sorta good, it's Lasorda good," he says shamelessly.

Still the question remains: Why would Tommy Lasorda, a distinguished former major league pitcher who has been named baseball manager of the year three times—in the process getting his team into three World Series—try to sandwich in a second career this late in the game? "He needed a security blanket," says Dodger coach Bill Russell, who tries to explain: "After last night's game we had a big spread, and he put two cheeseburgers in his locker to take home just in case. He wasn't going to get hungry."

Lasorda, who had previously declined many similar offers, teamed up with Canadian restaurateur Oscar Gruber to open his own $1 million eatery last February. "If I was going to put my name on it, I wanted it to be good," he says. Jo, his wife of 37 years, has her own explanation for her husband's attachment to edibles. "He's from an Italian family," she says, "where meals were happy times with lots of food."

Lasorda was the second of five sons born to Sabatino and Carmella Lasorda, working-class immigrants who settled in Norristown, Pa. "My father was a truck driver, but he was the most inspirational man in my life," Lasorda recalls. "I remember him coming home in winter, sitting at the head of the table, his feet frozen because we didn't have regular heat, and he'd say, 'I'm the luckiest man in the world.' "

The style of the restaurant reflects Lasorda's tastes and those of his fans. There are paper place mats in case someone wants an autograph. On the walls are pictures of Lasorda with Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles and Dean Martin and Danny Kaye and Lee Iacocca and Ronald Reagan.

Food, it seems, is still a family obsession. Lasorda's four older brothers—Eddie, Harry, Morris and Joey—who run their own restaurant in Exton, Pa., act as consultants. Morris even came out to the Coast with some recipes that their mother had used.

Tommy plays the gastronomic field with a starving man's gusto. When a steaming bowl of pasta fagioli is served, Lasorda finishes off his portion, then observes, "Too much sauce; otherwise it's deeelicious!" What are his five favorite dishes? Let's see. There's linguine, collard greens, Chinese food, chicken, steak, clams.... He can't stop; he loves them all. Once asked to describe his worst meal, he replied simply, "Fantastic!"

As a manager Lasorda is famous for the quality and variety of the postgame spread in the Dodger clubhouse. "Many, many years ago when I was a youngster growing up, we used to drink canned milk," he explains. "On the can it said, 'From contented cows.' Well, I think contented ball players give better performance."

The players in turn love to tell Lasorda food stories. Like about the time he had an upset stomach and only ate two plates of chicken and rice. Or how he wolfs down four dozen oysters as an appetizer. They are stories of a man who knows what he likes and who now, in his restaurant, is privileged to share it. "I am," says Tom Lasorda, echoing his late father, "the luckiest man in the world."

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