In remembrance of former Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, who died Thursday at 93, and in reflection upon the authoritarian assault on democracy earlier this week, I offer this excerpt from my book The Giants and the Dodgers: Four Cities, Two Teams, One Rivalry:
When the Giants played their last night game at Candlestick Park, they asked their opponents — the Dodgers — for a favor. The Dodgers obliged, and so, shortly before the game began, Thomas Charles Lasorda emerged one last time from the visitors’ clubhouse in right field. Wearing a Dodger blue jacket on which his name was spelled Lasodra, “the most fun guy in the world to hate,” as Giant broadcaster Mike Krukow called him, strolled toward the infield while the public address system blared “That’s Amore.” After a stop by first base to shake hands with Giant owner Peter Magowan, the former Dodger manager stood alone in the infield, doffed his cap, raised his arms skyward, and soaked up the vitriol as if it gave life. Like Robinson watching Thomson touch each base or Roseboro reeling from Marichal, the image of the 72-year-old Lasorda provoking an Orwellian two minutes’ hate from 50,000 people captured the essence of the longest running sports rivalry in American history — and a complicated piece of human nature.
Because hate is not the opposite of love. (Indifference is.) Like love, hate is a handhold in a universe too sheer for comprehension. From it we fix our place, distinguish good from bad, and contextualize ourselves — the basic building blocks of psychological survival. Which is why hatred endures. How often we think, if only we could rid ourselves of what we hate, our lives would be much better, when in fact we’d feel empty without that potent rival to define ourselves against, and would, in short time, find a new one to replace it. We need what we hate.
Sophisticates in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles disdain sports and sports fans, yet it’s hard to imagine a more civilized sublimation of the primal urge to hate. As we’ve seen, an athletic rivalry can break out in violence. But on the whole it’s downright Gandhian compared to the slaughter and oppression that are humankind’s traditional responses to rivalry. At times it even has comedic overtones. For who could honestly believe Lasorda was spoiling for combat that evening, and the crowd literally braying for his blood? They were antagonists, yes, but also actors reprising signature roles with a wink and a nod. As Mike Krukow observed, it was fun for Giant fans to hate Lasorda. And if Lasorda truly felt threatened, he never would have agreed to that last walk — or to leading the crowd (off-key) in a seventh-inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that climaxed with the line, “And it’s root, root, root for the Dodgers.”
Let’s choose our handhold carefully, folks — more carefully than the barbarians who trampled on democracy last Wednesday.