CHEYENNE, WYO.—Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda saw the motivational challenge.
"It was his first time out in the championships," said Lasorda. "I gave him a pep talk. I told him, 'This is your shot. There isn't an empty seat in this place.'
"I told him it was his chance to make a statement. I told him, 'You are young, but you are going to be a champion, and this is a chance to serve notice.' I think he was listening. His eyes were open wide."
And within seconds, the promising bucking bull, Deja Blue, whose name is a play on the Dodger Blue that Lasorda holds in such a high regard, had responded to the encouragement of Lasorda, a partner with Tom Teague in ownership of the bull.
"I told him, 'You're going to be better than Bodacious,' and his eyes opened wider. Then he went out and threw the guy," said Lasorda. "I winked at him. That was just the beginning."
It was the beginning for Deja Blue, and Lasorda, a newcomer to the world of Professional Bull Riding who is definitely hooked on the eight-second ride, or rather hooked on the idea of cutting short that eight-second ride.
Catching Some Bull
Lasorda's infatuation with PBR began innocently enough. During an event at the Anaheim Pond in 2008, a longtime friend of his, public-relations ace Steve Brenner, noticed there was a group of Dodgers, along with actress Bo Derek, on hand for publicity shots.
"Steve calls and says I have to get down there," said Lasorda, who lives just up the freeway from the Pond in Orange County. "I told him, 'I'm in my PJ's, I can't go now.' He said I had to get there and needed to do it right away. I couldn't say no."
Derek, Lasorda admits, was the initial attraction. PBR, however, won him over. After meeting PBR CEO Randy Bernard and having a few pictures taken with the bull riders, Lasorda decided to hang around to watch a couple of rides. It didn't take long and Lasorda, in his first exposure to the battle of bull riding, was hooked.
"I wound up staying for that whole event," said Lasorda. "It was fascinating."
So fascinating that Lasorda wound up going into co-ownership of Deja Blue, who was bred and raised on PBR announcer Justin McKee's ranch in Oklahoma and was the $100,000 winner of the 2007 ABBI World Champion Futurity.
"Easy," Lasorda said of his decision to invest in Deja Blue. "Just look at him. And besides, it's the bull that was recommended to me."
Sharing Some Advice
Lasorda knows baseball as well as any man alive. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a teenager out of Norristown, Pa., he was a journeyman pitcher with brief big league time, scouted for a while, managed in the minor leagues, and coached on the big league staff for Dodgers manager Walt Alston.
When Alston retired, Lasorda hit the jackpot in the final four days of the 1976 season. He became the manager of the Dodgers. He filled out their lineup card for nearly 20 full seasons, retiring 76 games into the 1996 season.
During his tenure he compiled a 1,599-1,439 record, ranking 17th all-time in victories and 16th in games managed. He guided the Dodgers to seven NL West titles and four NL pennants, and he claimed World Series championships in 1981 and 1988.
He managed 61 postseason games, ranking behind only Bobby Cox, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre in that department.
"I was very fortunate to work for an organization like the Dodgers, which gave me the opportunity I had," Lasorda said.
Since stepping down he has been a special assistant in the Dodgers front office, and has worked with Major League Baseball in selling the game internationally, serving as the manager of the 2000 Olympic baseball team.
And now, he is becoming a popular figure in the PBR, excited about his involvement in owning a bull, and awed by the skill of the riders who challenge the bulls for a living.
"I was talking about how much I admired them and this guy asked me how they would compare to baseball players," Lasorda said. "I told him no comparison. These guys can play baseball if they want, but baseball players can't ride bulls."
When Lasorda showed up in Las Vegas for the 2008 PBR finals to watch Deja Blue, he was asked to address the bull riders prior to the first night of competition.
"I told them to turn off the cameras initially and I told those 40 guys they had to be the dumbest SOB's I'd ever seen in my life, climbing on top of that living dynamite," Lasorda said. "Then when the cameras were on I told them, 'One of you guys is going to win $1 million. Each and every one of you should go out there expecting that guy to be you.' That's what it is all about, being the best at what you do.
"It doesn't matter if you are playing baseball or riding bulls, winning. That's what it is all about winning, and when you go out there that's what you have to be focused on doing—winning."
Of course, Lasorda later gave that same talk to Deja Blue, who seemed to listen closely, too. And that, said Lasorda, is no bull.