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“You haven’t done sh*t until you win tomorrow.” – Tommy Lasorda
I get it. There is a solid percentage of folks out there who believe the season is somehow a failure because another team walked off with the big trophy. It’s a sentiment that runs deep in our culture, from youth baseball leagues at the neighborhood park to the biggest baseball stage in the world.
While many think Tommy was referring to the club and the season, I think he was talking to Roberts on a manager to manager level. He wasn’t saying if the team should fall in Game 7 they were failures, he was letting Roberts in on something that only leaders feel.
I can’t begin to fathom the pressures and emotional roller coasters that big league managers have to ride out through a season – and if fate smiles upon them, a championship run. However, in a very small way, I know what it’s like to lead a team from tryouts, through a season, and into the playoffs. I’ve tasted both victory and defeat in championship games.
When the team wins, the manager naturally bestows all credit to the players. As Tommy was fond of saying, the manager inserts the player into a position to succeed. Sometimes they do. That’s what happened when Lasorda’s teams won two World Series’ (1981, ’88). They once did it with a crew of stuntmen that most outside of the Dodgers’ blue bubble thought would be crushed by their much more powerful opponents.
The catchphrase of Lasorda’s 1988 Worlds Champions was “What a team!” Their victory underscored their skipper’s preaching that 25 men pulling together on a rope cannot be beaten. Tommy slept well knowing his team won it all.
Before drinking that sweet champagne, Tommy first tasted ashes as a losing World Series manager. In his first year at the helm, Lasorda’s Dodgers lost to Billy Martin‘s Yankees in 1977. I’m confident Tommy went to bed that night feeling as I did when my team lost the championship. Thoughts of guilt and regret swirled in my head. “I blew it. It’s my fault. What could I have done differently to get the team across the finish line?” I wasn’t thinking of how the team messed up. We lost because of my failure as a leader.
That’s what Tommy was talking about when he spoke to Roberts on the eve of Game 7. That’s what leaders feel when the quest comes up short. I’m betting that’s exactly what Roberts felt after the roar from the series was gone, and he was alone with his thoughts.
Roberts, like Tommy, felt the pain. Tommy rose to fight again and eventually brought the World Series Championship to Los Angeles. Dave Roberts has a young, talented team that will return to the Fall Classic. When they do, and when they eventually win, the Dodgers’ skipper will sleep well, wrapped in the satisfaction of a job well done.