|Alston and Lasorda, 1953 photo from their days together at AAA Montreal.|
Ten or fifteen years ago, Lasorda did a radio spot for Centinella Hospital and discussed the great care he received when he had his heart procedure there back in 1996, saying “I don’t get heart attacks, I give ‘em.” Well, I guess he learned how to give heart attacks from his predecessor, Walter Alston, on a country road outside Darrtown..
All right, Miss Tulsa, put away those poison pen letters for a minute and take a letter to Walt Alston. Send it care of the Dodgers. I don’t think Darrtown has a post office yet. Mark it “Unurgent” and sign it “Affectionately.”
See I told you it wouldn’t last. That O’Malley is a fickle character who changes skippers on a whim every 23 years.
I’m going to miss our little chats on the infield fly rule and the balk motion. I was just beginning to get the hang of it. I don’t think we ever once discussed anything that didn’t go on between those white lines out there. I don’t know whether you’re Republican or Democrat or Catholic or Protestant and I’ve known you for 18 years. I never heard you tell a lie, saw you take a drink or talk about anyone behind his back. I heard three generations of your players cut you up - usually after their third martini or while trying to impress the lady on the next bar stool.
I’ll never forget the time on the team bus a bunch of guys were discussing some bistros in New York and you said with a perfectly straight face, ‘What do people do in night clubs?’ They looked at each other for a moment but, when the answer came that they sit there and drink, you shook your head and said, ‘They could do that in their room - at no cover charge.’
I know you didn’t spend all your life making fudge and bobbing for apples - you could cuss like a ferryboat captain - but if you had any major hang-ups, I never saw it. You were testy with me on a few occasions, but that was before you came to appreciate the vast knowledge of baseball that I have accumulated. Let’s face it, Walt; you could never have won those pennants without me.
I’m going to miss our little jokes about Darrtown. You know. ‘We don’t have an airport, but we have a birdbath.’ ‘Darrtown’s international airport has ducks in it.’ ‘The train only stops here when it hits a cow.’ ‘We don’t have a street, but the trees are blazed.’ ‘Main Street is the ploughed field without corn in it.’ ‘We don’t have burlesque; but the widder Brown leaves her shades up.’ ‘They would have put a traffic light on Main Street, but the cows are color blind.’ ‘An energy crisis is when your mule dies.’
I never got the impression you were afraid of a damned thing. And that went for 220-pound left fielders or the job stealers the owner use to hire under you to put a little Broadway in the act. Next to you, they were showed up as the petty little back-alley schemers they were. It was like a bug biting an elephant.
You were a college graduate with a teacher’s degree, but you used to say ‘extry’ all the time. You were as Middle Western as a pitchfork. Black players who have a sure instinct for the closet bigot recognized immediately you didn’t know what prejudice was. You were as straight as John Brown’s body. There was no ‘side’ to Walter Alston. What you saw was what you got.
But, I guess the thing I’ll always remember is that you never had to worry about what sort of ‘mood’ Walter Alston was in. You were as approachable as a hunting dog. As long as I live, I will never forget that dressing room in the playoff of 1962, when the Dodgers blew a 9th inning 4-2 lead and the pennant. The players locked themselves in and passed the bottle. You came out, dry-eyed… and dry throat and talked to us, then went over and congratulated the Giants and Alvin Dark. You had won a playoff, too, three years before.
I sat with you through 10-game losing streak in 1961 and never once saw you bust up a locker or punch a newspaperman. That’s why, when you turned on a newsman this summer, I couldn’t have been more shocked if they caught St. Francis of Assisi poisoning bread crumbs.
Your life is summed up in Jack Tobin’s biography ‘One Year At A Time.’ I don’t know of anybody leaves his profession with more respect. You took a four-straight loss in the ’66 World Series with a shrug. You had won in four straight, too, three years before. You didn’t panic when they took your slugging team from a bandbox in Brooklyn to the Coliseum in L.A., which was about as suitable for baseball as a deck of an aircraft carrier. You won a pennant on that aircraft carrier the second year.
I used to laugh when someone would say, ‘Why shouldn’t Alston win with all that talent?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah. Too bad he doesn’t have some better baseball players to go with that talent. I think you ran that wild animal act that was the Dodgers about as well as it could be run without a whip and a chair.
So, I’ll be seeing you, Walt. Give my regards to beautiful downtown Darrtown. I don’t know what time your stagecoach gets in; but, when the natives ask you where you have been for the past 23 years, tell ‘em you found seasonal work in Californy. But, don’t tell ‘em what happened to Custer.
The corner of the dugout is going to look funny without you there, next year. I only hope the Dodgers don’t, too.
The Old Second Guesser”