Tommy Lasorda, who began bleeding Dodger blue when the team still played in Brooklyn, left the job he loved and lived for 20 years when he retired today as Los Angeles' manager.

Choking back tears at one point and respinning old baseball yarns at another, the 68-year-old Lasorda said health concerns and the desire to spend more time with his family persuaded him to leave the dugout and become a team vice president.

Lasorda underwent angioplasty June 26 after it was determined he had had a heart attack. He said he was cleared medically to return to the dugout, but realized it made sense to retire.

"For me to get into a uniform again -- as excitable as I am -- I could not go down there without being the way I am," Lasorda, his voice shaking, said at a Dodger Stadium news conference. "I decided it's best for me and the organization to step down. . . . That's quite a decision.

"It was a heck of a run," he said.

During his two decades, there were a total of 185 managerial changes in the major leagues. Lasorda became just the fourth big league manager to last into his 20th season with the same team, joining Connie Mack, John McGraw and Walter Alston. It was Alston's retirement after 23 years that opened the job for Lasorda.

Lasorda, who has spent 47 years in the Dodgers system as a player, scout, coach and manager, led Los Angeles to the World Series championship in 1981 and again in 1988 -- a memorable five-game victory over the heavily favored Oakland Athletics highlighted by the limping Kirk Gibson's dramatic pinch-hit homer to win the opening game.

The Dodgers also reached the World Series under Lasorda in 1977 and 1978, and won NL West titles in 1983, 1985 and 1995.

Bill Russell, who played shortstop under Lasorda in the late 1970s and early '80s and later had him as his mentor, will remain the interim manager through this season. During Lasorda's absence, Russell was 14-16.

The decision to step down as the manager was completely his, Lasorda said. He said as recently as Friday, after receiving medical clearance from his doctors to go back to work, that he intended to return to the dugout.

Lasorda changed his mind, however, after talking with owner Peter O'Malley and executive vice president Fred Claire. "Peter told me, You're the manager,' " Lasorda said. " If you want to go down there and put on that uniform, you're the manager.' "

Said O'Malley: "I think it's fair to say the last three days -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- that he was wrestling with it. Even though he didn't say it, I could tell that he and Jo {Lasorda's wife} were wrestling with it.

"As much as he had said after he was hospitalized that he was going to manage again, I could tell that he was wrestling with it. And perhaps family and close friends were saying, Hey, Tommy, wait a second. Think about this a little bit more.' And I think he did."

Lasorda, who has spent 47 of his 50 years in pro baseball with the Dodger organization and professes to "bleed Dodger blue," grew teary-eyed as he thanked O'Malley for hiring him 20 years earlier.

A few minutes later, though, Lasorda's eyes lit up as he talked about becoming a vice president, noting with a grin that he always secretly envied the guys in suits.

"I always used to look up at Fred and Al {Campanis} and those guys who were vice presidents, and now I'm a vice president of the Dodgers," Lasorda said, his voice rising. "That's an honor and a privilege. And I'm going to do the best job I possibly can for the Dodgers because I love this organization.

"I've been with them for 47 years and I'm hoping that maybe 50 years from now I'll die a Dodger."

Lasorda finishes his on-the-field career as a rarity in modern professional sports: He spent two decades managing the same team.

There's a baseball axiom that says there are two kinds of managers: those who have been fired and those who are about to be. But that never applied to Lasorda.

The Dodgers were 41-35 and had a two-game lead in the NL West when Lasorda entered the hospital. They are now 1 1/2 games behind San Diego.

Lasorda was the winningest active manager and No. 13 on the career list with a record of 1,599-1,439 and two ties. He ranks 12th on baseball's career list for games managed (3,040), having surpassed Dick Williams in wins and games managed earlier this season.

As a left-handed pitcher who spent most of his career in the minors and had an 0-4 major league record, Lasorda was part of a different sort of Dodgers lore.

When the Dodgers needed a roster spot for a promising young pitcher in the mid-1950s, they sent down Lasorda -- and signed Sandy Koufax as a bonus player. CAPTION: TOMMY LASORDA CAREER HIGHLIGHTS * PITCHED in 26 games over three seasons (1954-1956) with Brooklyn Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics, with a career record of 0-4 and a 6.52 ERA. * NAMED Los Angeles Dodgers manager on Sept. 29, 1976. Managed for 20 seasons. Career record: 1,599-1,439-2. * RANKS 12th on career list for games managed (3,040) and 13th on career list for games won. * JOINED Connie Mack, John McGraw and Walter Alston -- Lasorda's predecessor -- as the fourth man to manage one team for 20 or more years. * WON two World Series championships (1981 and 1988), four National League pennants (1977, 1978, 1981, 1988) and seven Western Division titles (1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1995). * MANAGED National League all-star team four times (1978, 1979, 1982, 1989). * BECAME 19th manager to win a league title in his first full season (1977) and the second to win league titles in his first two seasons (1977 and 1978). * MANAGED eight National League rookies of the year (Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Sax, Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi and Hideo Nomo). * TWICE named National League manager of the year (1978 and 1983). * SECOND on career list of postseason games managed with 61. (Casey Stengel managed 63.) CAPTION: Tommy Lasorda leaves after having a heart attack and undergoing surgery earlier this season.