PHILS INSIDER

Despite the video evidence, Tommy Lasorda and the Phanatic loved each other

PHILS INSIDER
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All these years later, it's still the first question Dave Raymond hears at one of his speaking gigs.

Was the feud with Tommy Lasorda real?

Did you guys really not like each other?

Raymond's phone buzzed all day Friday as news filtered out that Lasorda, legendary Hall of Fame manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, had died after a life well lived at the age of 93. 

The original Phillie Phanatic was happy to take every call and talk about his old friend.

And, yes, they were friends.

"As sad as I am to hear about Tommy's passing, it's given me the opportunity to tell some of the old stories and relive some great memories," Raymond said. "Tommy was one of the greatest ambassadors baseball has ever seen and I'll never forget the kindness he showed me." 

Kindness?

You call being beaten over the head with a mannequin kindness?

In August 1988, Lasorda brought his team into Veterans Stadium. The Dodgers, headed to a World Series title that year, were really good. The Phillies, headed toward a last-place finish, were really bad.

Raymond was in his 11th season wearing the furry green garb of the Phanatic. He had long loved tormenting Lasorda and for many years the Dodgers skipper played along with it. Over the years, the Phanatic had enlisted Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax as a co-conspirator in getting under Lasorda's skin. Sax would sneak into the manager's office and grab Lasorda's extra uniform top and the Phanatic would playfully desecrate it during his on-field performance in the fifth inning.

 

"I did everything imaginable to that jersey," Raymond said with a laugh.

The fans loved it — for years — and Lasorda, well, he tolerated it. For under that competitive veneer lie the heart of a showman, a character, someone who understood that having fun was a big part of the game.

But on that particular trip to Philadelphia, a place he loved because was born and raised in Norristown and loved bringing his team into town to play in front of family and friends, Lasorda wasn't in a playful mood.

"He'd been on a diet and hadn't eaten pasta in more than a week," Raymond recalled. "He had threatened to fire the clubhouse guy if the Phanatic ended up with his jersey. In fact, Sax couldn't get me his jersey because Tommy brought only one on the trip."

Raymond was undeterred.

He went to a sporting goods store and paid $100 for a Dodgers jersey. He had a friend embroider Lasorda's name and No. 2 on the back. Raymond built a stuffed Tommy Lasorda dummy — la pancia and all — loaded it onto his 4-wheeler and drove out to the third-base line to have a little fun at Lasorda's expense.

What happened next is YouTube gold. An enraged Lasorda emerged from the visiting dugout and tried to roll the Phanatic's ATV off the field. Then he wrestled the Phanatic to the ground, grabbed the dummy and beat a prone Phanatic over the head with it.

Inside the costume, Raymond was panicked.

Holy @#$%! Tommy is really mad! Holy @#$%! The Phanatic's head is about to come off! Holy @#$%! The game will be delayed and I'll be fired.

Raymond took the beating and rolled toward the photographer's well. He re-fastened the Phanatic's chin strap, regained control of his 4-wheeler and rode away, but not before slowing down in front of the Dodgers' dugout and mocking his longtime "adversary" one more time.

The next day, legendary Philadelphia Daily News writer Stan Hochman chastised both Raymond and Lasorda in his column. The criticism stung Raymond a little because he was just doing his job. Nonetheless, he sent some veal scallopine from his favorite restaurant in South Philly to Lasorda. The Dodger skipper accepted the delicious peace offering and everyone moved on.

The unique connection between Raymond and Lasorda actually started a decade earlier on a tour of Japan. Lasorda managed a team of MLB All-Stars and the Phanatic came along to entertain crowds. One day, Lasorda caught the Phanatic signing autographs on the sweet spot of a dozen baseballs. That's a no-no. The sweet spot is reserved for the manager. Lasorda mustered every bit of salty language he could and read Raymond the riot act. The manager punctuated his diatribe with a "Gotcha!" but Raymond and his big green alter ego learned a lesson about an old baseball custom. From that moment in Japan, a friendship grew.

Raymond handed off the furry green costume to equally talented Tom Burgoyne in 1994 and Lasorda managed his last game in 1996. But their friendship continued as Lasorda moved into the front office and Raymond pursued a career in mascot design/consultation and motivational speaking.

 

Every now and then, the two men would cross paths at the winter meetings. Lasorda would be holding court, telling old stories in the hotel lobby. Raymond would be running to meet a client. Lasorda would grab him, pull him into a group of people and feign outrage.

"You see this kid," Lasorda would tell his audience. "He's lucky he's alive ..."

Raymond, the son of the late, great Tubby Raymond, Hall of Fame football coach from the University of Delaware, relished the chance to talk about these meetings after his old friend's passing Friday.

"Tommy was so kind to me," he said. "Every time I saw him, the first thing he would do was ask about my dad and the next thing he would do was tell people how he almost killed me.

"He was one of the last vestiges of something that's disappearing in baseball — personality, characters. He inspired passion and love for the game in people. He brought fun to the game and I cherish him for that."

Even though he tried to kill you?

"Oh, yeah," the original Phillie Phanatic said. "Nothing but joyful memories here."

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