All Ball Sports: Lasorda, and the Linguine and Baseball Club; Goff in from the cold; Coach Feather credited

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and attorney Tony Capozzola during a Linguini and Baseball Club lunch in the early 1980s. Photo courtesy of Tony Capozzola

By Paul Teetor

Tony Capozzola had some baseball advice for Tommy Lasorda during what started as a friendly lunch. Lasorda didn’t agree with it — and didn’t want to hear it.

The lunch went downhill from there. It ended a few hours later with Lasorda – a notorious potty-mouth and proud of it – declaring victory as only he could: by saluting Capozzola with what is known diplomatically as the Italian one-fingered salute.

On the streets of the Beach Cities, where it is frequently seen as a warning sign of imminent road rage, it’s known as giving the bird or flipping someone off.

It all started at a meeting of the Linguine and Baseball Club back in 1983. Lasorda – whose passing Friday at age 93 has sparked a tsunami of Tommy stories – was riding high as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He held the job from 1976 to 1996, a longevity record exceeded only by his predecessor, Walter Alston.

Capozzola, a prominent Redondo Beach defense attorney, had formed the Linguini and Baseball club along with Lasorda and veteran LA sports columnist Bud Furillo as a fund-raiser for various charities – and to give the three paisans an excuse to get together as much as possible.

On this day, they were holding a club meeting in a San Pedro bar/restaurant a few hours before a night game against the Cincinnati Reds. After the pasta and meatballs were consumed, the talk turned to baseball tactics and strategy with a runner on second base and no outs. Lasorda said he liked to have the next batter swing away.

But Capozzola said that, based on his experience managing Little League teams, the smart move was to always try to advance the runner with a sacrifice bunt. That way you get a man on third base with just one out.

“Once you bunt him over, now you have a guy who can score on a wild pitch, a fly out, all kinds of possibilities to score a run,” Capozzola said. Lasorda vehemently disagreed with Capozzola’s logic— and his impudence.

“You’re trying to tell me how I should manage the Dodgers based on what you learned from some (expletive) Little League games?” an incredulous Lasorda retorted. “You must be (expletive) kidding!”

Capozzola, known as a bull dog in court who currently has a 17-trial winning streak, barked back just as loudly. “I know what the hell I’m talking about,” he said. “It may be the Little League, but the rules are the same as in the Majors. Get the guy to third base and you have significantly increased your chances of scoring a run.”

This was several decades before data and analytics took over all aspects of baseball strategy. In recent years Capozzola’s street-level wisdom has been embraced by the data analysts who now run baseball: with no outs, you should always bunt the runner over from second to third.

But Lasorda was proudly old-school, and he continued to berate Capozzola all through the lunch and would not let it drop until he had the last word.

That night, Capozzola attended the Dodgers-Reds game and sat with Lasorda’s wife Jo in seats near home plate.

In the 7th inning, Bill Russell hit a double with no outs. That set up the exact situation the two men had argued about so loudly earlier in the day.

As slugger Steve Garvey walked to the plate, Capozzola wondered if Lasorda would use his suggested strategy and have Garvey bunt Russell over to third base.

Not a chance. Garvey was swinging all the way, and soon lashed a single to right field that scored Russell.

A second after Russell scored, Lasorda popped out of the Dodger dugout, looked up to where Capozzola and his wife were sitting, and gave Capozzola the one-fingered Italian salute.

Jo Lasorda saw it and waved back. “That was nice, Tommy waving to me,” she said to Capozzola.

“I had to explain to her that Tommy wasn’t waving to her,” Capozzola ruefully said. “That was intended for me. He was putting a punctuation mark on our little dispute.”

Capozzola was introduced to Lasorda by the late, great LA Times sports writer Jim Murray, widely regarded as the best sports writer in LA history, shortly after Lasorda was promoted to Dodgers manager in 1976.

“We immediately bonded over our Italian backgrounds,” Capozzola said. “That was the beginning of the Linguine and Baseball Club.”

The two men remained pals up until the day of Lasorda’s passing over the weekend. But there was another aspect to it: Capozzola, a born contrarian and disrupter more interested in sticking up for the little guy than in sucking up to power, was an unabashed Lasorda fan. He loved Tommy’s raw passion, direct way of talking, and big heart.

He was such a Tommy fan that he carried around on his phone a link that contained audio recordings of some of Lasorda’s most famous rants.

Unlike many managers and coaches in college and pro sports, Lasorda liked being around reporters and felt comfortable enough to speak his mind without filtering anything from his stream of consciousness. That was the context behind his single most famous rant, which Capozzola was sending out to friends over the weekend after the news broke that Lasorda was now in Blue Heaven.

On May 14, 1978 the Chicago Cubs beat the Dodgers 10-7 behind three home runs by Big Dave Kingman. After the game LA radio reporter Paul Olden asked Lasorda a typically mindless sports writer type of question, fishing for quotes he could use in his story: “What did you think of Kingman’s performance today?”

Well, Lasorda wasn’t having it.

“What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance? What the (expletive) do you think my opinion is of it? I think it was (expletive). Put that in. I don’t (expletive) care,” Lasorda said.

“What’s my opinion of his performance? (Expletive) He beat us with three (expletive) home runs. What the (expletive) do you mean, ‘What is my opinion of his performance?’ How can you ask me a question like that?”

Still, Lasorda wasn’t quite finished.

“What is my opinion of his performance? (Expletive) He hit three home runs. (Expletive) I’m (expletive) off to lose a (expletive) game, and you ask me my opinion of his performance? I mean, that’s a tough question to ask me, “What is my opinion of his performance?”

While most of the obits and memory essays sparked by Lasorda’s passing concentrated on his long baseball career – he was with the Dodgers as a pitcher, coach, manager, executive and good-will ambassador for 70 years – Capozzola said the Linguini and Baseball Club combined all of Lasorda’s other passions.

“Tommy loved food, he loved helping others through charities like the Salvation Army, and of course he loved baseball,” he said. “And above all he lived for the Dodgers winning another championship to add to the ones he won in 1981 and 1988. The last game he ever watched was the title-clinching victory over the Tampa Bay Rays last October. He died a happy man.”

Rams sink the Seahawks

Rams fans: savor this win while you can.

This was the easy part of the long, hopeful march to the Super Bowl. Still, Saturday’s 30-23 upset over the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle required the elite Rams defense to play their best game of the year.

Next up: they’ll travel to the sacred frozen tundra of the Green Bay Packers, who feature the league’s second-best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who also happens to be the heavy favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player this year.

Even worse, there’s a good chance the Rams will be without their best player on either side of the ball – defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who broke a rib against the Seahawks. Their best wide receiver, Cooper Kupp also could be out with an injury. And even backup quarterback John Wolford, who started Saturday’s game but was soon knocked out with a neck injury and did not return after being transported to a hospital, could be out of action.

Still, for the moment let’s forget about what is waiting for the Rams next Saturday and just enjoy the thrilling and improbable victory over the Seahawks, who entered the game as heavy favorites.

Why? Because Pete Carroll is one of the best coaches in the league, because Russell Wilson is one of the best QB’s in the league, because DK Metcalf is one of the best receivers in the league, and because Seattle’s defense is one of the best in the league, second only to the Rams’ defense.

And because the Rams’ offense was in free-fall, unable to score a touchdown in the last two games even before QB Jared Goff fractured his thumb in the regular season’s penultimate game.

So how in the world did the Rams win with a starting QB playing in only his second NFL game and a backup QB in Goff who used to be the starter. Twelve days after thumb surgery, Goff was benched by Coach Sean McVay until Wolford’s injury left him with no choice but to play him, injured thumb and all.

Well, they mostly did it with their suffocating defense that sacked Wilson five times and even had a pick-six against him that was the key play of the game.

It’s a good thing Goff was wearing a COVID-19-protective face mask as he strode the sideline like a wounded animal as the game started. Even without being able to see his face, it was clear that he was angry and frustrated – and yes, mystified too – at being benched in favor of Wolford. One has to wonder if the bond between Goff and head coach/mentor McVay was fractured by the controversial decision to start Wolford when Goff was clearly ready, willing and able to play.

No one ever roots for a teammate to get hurt, but Goff’s heart-rate had to leap several octaves when he saw a wobbly Wolford being helped off the field after a vicious head-shot that should have drawn a penalty flag but didn’t.

And Goff was just good enough as a relief pitcher– he hit nine of 19 passes – to manage the game and let the defense win it for them.

On to Green Bay! Let’s see if Goff can do it again – if McVay decides to start him.

The rich get richer

In the long history of the NBA draft, there have been very few all-stars drafted in the second round – Manu Ginobli, Draymond Green, Toni Kukoc, Gilbert Arenas and…well, the list pretty much ends there.

Get ready to add Talen Horton-Tucker to that list in the not-too-distant future.

The Lakers already have the best player in basketball in LeBron James, the best record in basketball, and a player who at worst is the fourth best player in Anthony Davis.

Now they have a young player in Horton-Tucker who may someday soon join that short list of second-round All-Star picks. Horton-Tucker, the 46th overall pick in the 2019 draft, spent most of his rookie year shuttling back and forth between the Lakers and their G-League affiliate. His coming out party was held Sunday night during the Lakers 120-102 win over the Houston Rockets.

THT, as he’s known among the players and media, put up 17 points to go along with three assists, four steals and five rebounds.

Even more than the numbers, he just LOOKS like a future star. The 6-foot-4 guard moves like a powerful panther and has a full repertoire of slinky moves and tricky finishes around the basket. Against Houston he proved that his game is growing by hitting 7 out of 8 shots from the field and 2 out of three 3-point shots.

Even LeBron, who’s not easily impressed with young players, was enthusiastic about the kid’s talent and work ethic.

“He does it on both sides of the floor,” LeBron said. “And then he just listens. He’s a sponge. Whatever you say to him, he’s going to apply it. He’s going to accept it, first, and then he’s going to apply it right away. There’s not that many young guys that can take something on the fly and then make it happen the very next day.”

The 20-year-old THT was a star in Chicago high school ball and attended Iowa State for one year before declaring for the draft. He started his rookie year with the South Bay Lakers in the G-League, but was called up to the Lakers after a couple of months and had a limited role. After a four-month layoff last summer THT improved so much that during the season re-start he had earned a small but regular role in the team’s rotation.

Now his improvement has accelerated and it appears the Lakers have a blossoming star-to-be with unlimited potential.

As Bernie Sanders would say: The rich get richer. The poor…well, you know how that goes.

Sark’s South Bay to Alabama Connection

Those who watched Monday night as Alabama demolished Ohio State 52-24 in the College Football championship game should check out Sports Illustrated online. It has a wonderfully written story detailing Steve Sarkisian’s long and sometimes rocky journey from El Camino College quarterback back in the early ‘90s to his role as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in the big game. After the game, he immediately traveled west for his new job: Head coach of Texas.

His story is woven together with that of El Camino’s legendary football coach John Featherstone, who convinced Sarkisian to give coaching a try after he was finished as a player.

The story doesn’t shy away from Sarkisian’s alcohol-fueled crash-and-burn stint as the USC head coach six years ago.

But the real pathos in the story by Ross Dellenger is supplied by the portrait of the beloved Featherstone – “Coach Feather” — being unable to comprehend or appreciate Sarkisian’s success because of his slow descent into dementia.

It’s heartbreaking.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com

Follow: @paulteetor. ER

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