There’s a reason why Tommy Lasorda won National League Manager of the Year twice and Father of the Year never.
Lasorda was a homophobe. He made Glenn Burke’s life miserable during the outfielder’s time with the Dodgers and was consistently hostile to any LGBTQ advocacy group that wanted to work with his team.
And, as we remembered last week, Lasorda loudly and profanely denied that his son was gay, even after Tommy Jr. died prematurely of AIDS-related complications at age 33.
During his son’s life, Tommy Sr.’s homophobia did not take the form you would ordinarily associate with a famous baseball celebrity of an older generation.
Following Tommy Jr.’s death, GQ’s Peter Richmond wrote an exploration of their relationship and given what we know about his dad’s views, it’s surprisingly filled with testimonials from friends of both Senior and Junior like “Everyone should know that there is this Tom [Sr.] who really loved his son” and “[Tommy Jr.] talked lovingly about his father and their relationship—they had a very good relationship.”
But throughout the piece, those assertions are undermined by repeated references to Tommy Jr.’s emotional fragility as he tried to live out the image of a West Hollywood club legend. As filmmaker and confidante Penelope Spheeris summed it up:
“He walked around with a big smile on his face, as if everything was great because he had everything around him to prove it was great. But I don’t think it was...when you’re that sad, you have to cover up a lot of pain. But he didn’t admit it.”
It’s not too hard to conclude that Tommy Sr.’s homophobia was a factor in his son’s underlying sadness. And Richmond got to the heart of the matter when he quoted a WeHo companion of Tommy Jr.’s:
“I think he wanted to make his father happy. But he didn’t know how to. He wanted to be more macho but he didn’t know how to. He wanted to please his dad. He wished he could have liked girls. He tried.”
There it is. For all the images friends tried to paint of father and son getting along well, it was always perfectly clear that underneath the surface-level affection, Tommy Lasorda never accepted his son for who he was. That’s heartbreaking and infuriating.
It didn’t have to be that way—even for a celebrity from a conservative sport like baseball or from an older generation. Lasorda’s Pleasantville-esque relationship with his gay son was all the more disheartening when contrasted with that of another big star from his era.
Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso was two years older than Lasorda, a should-be Hall of Famer, a barrier breaker for Latin American baseball players, and one of the most popular figures in Chicago White Sox history. His son Charlie Rice-Miñoso is gay. And in a 2015 tribute on the anniversary of his father’s passing, Charlie testified that Minnie was everything an LGBTQ kid could ask for in a dad:
“Thank you, Daddy, for always telling me to be myself, no matter who told me I should change. Thank you for accepting all of who I am, even if it took some time for you to understand certain parts of me. I’m not perfect, as you weren’t either, but somehow we made our complex and goofy relationship work.”
The contrast with Lasorda could not be more jarring. Here were two baseball stars of the same generation and two legends of the game—but only Miñoso was willing to do the work to accept his son completely and show that every part of his identity was worthy of love.
It took time for Minnie to reach that level of unconditional acceptance but he got there. As Charlie later realized, that was “because you didn’t want your child to be treated in the same cruel and ignorant manner that you were treated when you first started playing baseball, because of the color of your skin and your Cuban heritage...”
Minnie Miñoso knew what it was like to be marginalized — check out any newspaper cartoon from his day to see how sportswriters would add a dash of old-timey Chico Escuela-style racism to his every quote — and because of this, he worried about what his son would encounter after coming out. But he also knew that this made it all the more important for his fatherly love to be a constant in his Charlie’s life. As his son made clear, that message was received and embraced.
Meanwhile, Tommy Lasorda was as baseball establishment as it got. And his son’s sexuality clearly didn’t fit into the image he’d cultivated. Consequently, if you visited the Dodgers manager’s office, you were infinitely more likely to hear Tommy talk about his love for Frank Sinatra than for the kid who shared his name.
This is why we still celebrate Minnie Miñoso’s example years after his passing. And also why despite all the accolades and achievements, Tommy Lasorda’s life as a dad was nothing but missed opportunities. He had only himself and his homophobia to blame.