The memory of Jack Clark's pennant-winning home run still nags at him, still stirs claws in his belly.
"What if Clark had hit a line drive, and Kenny Landreaux had jumped over the fence and caught it?" Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda asked wistfully.
"Would people remember that I pitched to Jack Clark? But when Clark hit the home run, every person in America knew I did the wrong thing."
He stops and looks at the floor. Outside, groundskeepers have the Dodger Stadium infield looking rich and beautiful. Inside, the team's public relations staff is making final touches on the 1986 press guide.
It's a new season, and one of those resplendent southern California afternoons. Lasorda wants to press on with a talk about 1986, but the conversation keeps drifting back to the sudden, gut-wrenching end of 1985, Clark's three-run home run off reliever Tom Niedenfuer that won the National League pennant for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That was the day Lasorda cried, the day Dodgers fans deluged talk shows with advice that Lasorda find other work. Four months later, Lasorda appears to remember every moment of that afternoon.
"When I went in the clubhouse after the game, Niedenfuer wasn't around," Lasorda said. "He was back in the kitchen area. I told someone to go get him, that I wanted him out there. I told him, 'Son, the press is waiting. You're gonna have to talk to them. We're all going to face this thing with our heads up.'
"That's the great thing about our game. You didn't hear anyone saying (Miami Dolphins coach) Don Shula had his cornerbacks in the wrong place after the AFC championship game, did you? No one said he should have played the nickel defense more, did they? Or the $15 defense or $64 defense or whatever they call it. No one questions it because they don't know either. I watch football, and I don't know where those guys are supposed to be.
"But baseball, ah, baseball is different. Everyone has played. Everyone knows that when Jack Clark hit that home run I made a bad move. I'll tell you this: no one hurt worse than me. I don't think it'll ever hurt more than that one hurt."
Wearing a gray suit and a blue sweater, Lasorda wheels his blue Thunderbird into a Chavez Ravine parking lot and bounds into the Los Angeles Dodgers offices. The day is sunny and cool, and Lasorda is feeling his oats.
He kisses a secretary, yells, "Hey, Junior!" to a public relations man and thumbs through a stack of mail. He holds up one letter and reads the return address.
"Vice president of the United States," Lasorda said. "Hey, I wonder who that is?"
He tears it open, and reads a note from George Bush thanking him for the Dodgers desk calendar. He picks up a second letter, another thank-you, this one for his speech at the Air Force Academy's football banquet.
In what has surely been one of the most difficult winters of his baseball life, Lasorda estimates that he has given about 45 speeches and that he'll make 15 more before the National League West champions report to Vero Beach, Fla., next week.
He helped the high school in Caledonia, Miss., raise money to put lights on its baseball field. His fund-raising speech helped save the baseball program at the University of Nevada-Reno. And along the way, he played every place from Fort Dix to Teaneck to Tulia, Tex. -- "Six hundred people showed up in Tulia," Lasorda said. "Most they've ever had there at one time."
By almost any measuring stick, he's the closest thing to a full-time goodwill ambassador baseball ever has had, spending almost every single day of his offseason speaking to some group, raising money for some function.
This day, Lasorda is making two more speeches, and next week he's flying to Miami to raise money for the baseball team at St. Thomas College.
Still, as the 1986 season begins, the way the Dodgers' 1985 season ended dogs Lasorda.
He didn't walk Clark.
First base was open.
Left-hander Jerry Reuss was ready in the bullpen, and left-handed-hitting Andy Van Slyke was on deck.
He decided to pitch to Clark, one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Clark beat the proud, confident Dodgers.
In the end, it still isn't clear if he made a good decision that backfired or one of the bonehead moves of the '80s.
His Dodgers were leading, 5-4, and an out away from forcing the National League Championship Series into a seventh and deciding game when Clark's first-pitch homer won the pennant for the Cardinals.
Lasorda preaches the company line, and his public answers are always the same.
"Here's the thinking," Lasorda said. "First, Clark can be handled if you throw him the right pitch. Remember, I walked Tommy Herr the time before to pitch to him, and he struck out. I really feel that any time you walk a guy, unless it's to get to a real inferior hitter, you're putting your pitcher in a bad spot."
Public explanations aside, many baseball people defend Lasorda quickly. A Dodgers scout says that what Lasorda expected Niedenfuer to do wasn't risky at all: throw him four or five down-and-away sliders and see if Clark would nibble (he did the previous time up and struck out on a slider).
The Dodgers' private scouting report describes Clark as "the best clutch fast ball hitter in the league," several sources say.
Yet, inexplicably, Niedenfuer started Clark with a belt-high fast ball, and Clark nailed it.
"Niedenfuer had a good idea what he wanted to do," Lasorda said. "He had finished him off with a slider the previous time up, and he wanted to get out in front of him with a fast ball. But he didn't want to throw him that pitch."
Lasorda says to say anything more would put "all the emphasis on the pitcher," which would be unfair, he said, because the decision to pitch to him was "mine."
"I moped around for a day or two," he said, "but I got over it. I still think that when you prove you're a champion over a 162-game schedule, that's more important than what happens in one seven-game series."
Almost before he can finish the thought, he's off on another story. He once walked Joe Morgan, the potential winning run, to get to Dave Collins.
Collins grounded out.
"Oh, God, was I scared," he said. "Later, the press asked me why, and I said I'd looked up their salaries. Morgan was making $170,000, Collins $19,000. Morgan wasn't making all that money to pop up."
The moral is: sometimes it works out, and sometimes Jack Clark hits a three-run home run.