From the sandlot playgrounds of Norristown from a third-string high school pitcher to a successful baseball manager to becoming a world champion manager, and given the highest honor elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, Tommy Lasorda's successful life story attributes it to America to baseball and all the so many people who touched his life along the way.Tommy Lasorda is an icon in the baseball world. As a proud Italian-American, he has symbolized both. Baseball and America. His life journey has led him to be one of the most successful managers in baseball history.
He is a Hall of Famer who led his Los Angeles Dodgers to eight division and tow world championships in 20 seasons. He also managed the U.S. Olympic baseball team in 2000, when it won its first gold medal, and today is currently serving as executive senior vice president for the Dodgers. He lectures around the world promoting baseball and recently took time off to promote his new boom, "Baseball - I Live For This," by Bill Plaschke.
I met up with Lasorda at one of his book-signing events at Barnes & Noble store in Valley Forge, where hundreds of fans were waiting to meet the baseball legend. As Lasorda authographed things for his fans, he always said thank you - thank you for coming, thank you for being a fan.
Adults, children, professionals bought cards and baseballs to sign, but the only rule Lasorda has for balls he signs is that he must sign them to a particular person and that person must have a name. It isn't because he wants to know each of his fans personally, it's because he doesn't want anyone selling his autographed balls on E-Bay. If he won't sell his autograph, he doesn't want anyone else selling it either. And if the autograph is personalized, it is generally worthless.
As tommy Lasorda signed my copy of his book and a few photos I had of him and his brother, he also gave me 20 minutes of his time for a short interview.
"Mr. Lasorda, you and I are from the same hometown," I said. "My family and I are from Alruzzo, Italy.
"A pison," Lasorda said. "I love Abbazia, when I went to Italy about 15 years ago. My countrymen honored me. I went to my father's hometown of Tollo, five miles from Percara where they welcome we with open arms. The other cities that honored me were Sonnino, L'Aquilla and Cheti."
"As a young boy growing up who did you look toft" I asked. "Who was your idol?
"Lou Gehrig, Joe D'Maggio, Babe Ruth. They were heroes of mine. I met Joe DiMaggio, but not Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth," Lasorda said. "I was very close to Joe Dimaggio, he was a great man and a baseball legend."
I continued questioning him. "From your parents, what morals did they teach you growing up, and did you use any of that during your management years as skipper of the Dodgers?"
Said Lasorda: "My father said if you and five boys all get at one end of a rope and stick together you can pull half a ton, but if three get on one end and two on the other, you can pull all day long and pull against yourself all day long. That's what I used to tell my baseball teams."
"So what was the motivation, the one thing that worked for you, that made players believe in you?" I asked.
"That you work as a team," Lasorda said. There's no I in the word team. I made them believe what they had to do in order to be successful. I also had to lead by example."
"Is that what happened to Pete Rose," I asked. "Will Pete Rose ever be in the Hall of Fame?"
Pete Rose won't ever be in the Hall of Fame because he committed the worst sin that you could commit in baseball. He bet on the games. As a manager on a major league team, the prestige to be able to do t hat, Pete threw it all away by betting on baseball games. Pete Rose doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame."
"Does that include Barry Bonds?" I asked.
"Yes," most definitely," Lasorda said. "Now that they got him for taking steroids, I think he will will have a very tough time getting into the Hall of Fame. I know I am not going to vote for him."
"Who is the greatest baseball player who ever lived?" I asked.
"No question it was Babe Ruth," Lasorda said, but the greatest hitter who ever lived in our era was Ted Williams. And the best all-around players are two guys I greatly respect: Willie Mays and Micky Mantle. I never saw DiMaggio play."
"If there was one guy you never met, dead or alive, who would that be, who you would like to talk toft" I asked.
"That question was asked of me before, Joe," Lasorda said. "I think I would have loved to meet the late John McGraw, who was a great manager for the New York Giants fore many years. He was a great manager that I could have talked to about managing."
I continued: "As a manager, what do you see in an up-and-coming great player who has the "Wow" factor or could be a great player, like your grandson, Mike Piazza?"
"You have to check what his attitude is," Lasorda said. "You have to check and see how he can swing that bat and his bat speed. Those things are very important in being a great player. In Mike Piazza, they had deep skepticism in him. Mike is my godson. I am best friends with his father, Vince - we're all close friends. Mike had a great attitude. He had a great swing and worked hard. Nobody believed in him. I approached the Dodgers scouting department and asked them as a favor to me to let Mike come out to one of our tryouts. The Dodgers never called him. When asked about it, the scouts said they didn't' want to sign someone who was a relative of a club employee.
"I though, the heck with t his. I called the kid and told him to get on a plane and come to California. He was going to have a tryout if I had to do it personally. When Mike showed up, they gave him a quick tryout. The kid hit the ball all over the park. The scouting department thanked him, bid him farewell, t hen told me the Dodgers still wouldn't sign him. They said he didn't hit well enough for a first baseman. So I asked them if they would sign him if he was a catcher. They said yes, and I told them he was also a catcher.
"I skipped Mike to the Dodgers camp in the Dominican Republic, where he spent the winter as the only non-spanish speaker in the camp. He slept on a hard bunk and understood only a few of the instructions, but somehow he learned to catch. So in the late 1980s, Mike was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round and the rest is history. Mike Piazza will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the game's best catchers. I am proud of that Lasorda finish." Tommy Lasorda is baseball's true immortals. He still tells it as baseball's last true believers at 80 years old, after 20 years of managing and 57 years with the franchise. This True Blue Hall of Famer still suits up in Dodger blue every day and has become one of the world's most recognizable baseball faces.
Until next time, Ciao.
PS: Tommy Lasorda's manager and representative on his book tour, bill Goldberg, said the book t our started in LA October 24, 2007. The book was in the works for a couple of years and there were advanced orders for a hundred thousand books and is doing real well. Goldberg said people want to see Tommy to express their appreciation and Lasorda loves his fans. He has a great book. "It's not just a book, it's a life book," he said.
Tommy is real busy with the Dodgers and Lasorda had input on Joe Torre as the Dodgers coach.
Tommy Lasorda also had a new line of Italian wines, out in his name. The wines are all named from Tommy's father's home region in Italy. It's not a celebrity wine, and doesn't have his photo on it but there are eight of them that are now in the best restaurants in the country.
'It's a real good deal right now," Goldberg said. "The wine and the book. People can drink some good wine and read a good book."