Tommy Lasorda travels around the United States with the Hall of Fame ring he received after a successful 20-year reign as manager of the Dodgers. But his most popular baseball stories don’t center on the rookie season of Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 or the Orel Hershiser-Kirk Gibson tandem that keyed a championshp in 1988.
Instead, Lasorda captivates crowds with tales from the 2000 Olympics in Australia when Team USA defetaed Cuba, 4-0, in the gold-medal game. It was four years after Lasorda had retired and hardly anyone gave Lasorda and his unheralded roster a chance against the powerful Cuban national team, which had only one loss in previous Olympics competition.
Right-hander Ben Sheets earned the starting assignment for Team USA in the championship game. As a young prospect with the Milwaukee Brewers, Sheets was supposed to be on a pitch count. But with a shutout in the late innings, Lasorda wasn’t going to take chances with the bullpen. The triumph remains the highlight of Lasorda’s baseball career.
“This is bigger than the World Series,” Lasorda said. “I’ve managed four World Series, and when the Dodgers have won, the Dodger fans were happy, but the Cincinnati fans weren’t, the San Francisco fans weren’t. But with this baseball team, the United States of America is happy.”