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Thursday, November 15, 2007

He did it his way

It may have included a lot of fighting -- with other players, with his own players and with mascots, but Tommy Lasorda, one of baseball's living legends always managed the Dodgers with his own unique style. After brief introductions, the night began with a slideshow of Lasorda's finest and funniest moments. As Sinatra's legendary "My Way" brought the snapshots to life, baseball fans in attendance laughed, cried and smiled -- eager to share a night with one of baseball's most colorful figures.

Lasorda packed a crowd into the auditorium at the Department of Interior on Wednesday to share a night of baseball memories. This self-described "ordinary man" answered questions and told stories for over an hour before taking questions from the crowd. Joined by his co-author and LA Times reporter Bill Plaschke, Lasorda, as one could only expect, stole the show -- eliciting a standing ovation entrance and exit, and more than a few moments of the kind of audience-wide laughter that could have made the president wonder what kind of wild party was going on a few blocks away.

Much like I Live for This, the new Plaschke/Lasorda book which strings together anecdotes throughout Lasorda's career, the evening began with a warning from Plaschke that the night would be the most one-sided Q&A in history. He proceeded to prompt Tommy into his classic stories one by one. While most are described in detail in the new book, hearing them right from Lasorda was entertaining and heart-warming.

He began by telling the crowd about his relationship with classic crooner Frank Sinatra. The two became good friends throughout their careers and Sinatra promised to sing the national anthem when Lasorda became the manager of the Dodgers. Sinatra also befriended Lasorda's mother and gave her VIP treatment at his concert in exchange for a home cooked Italian meal at their family home.

Plaschke then asked Lasorda about his managerial style and noted that he was the first manager to ever hug a player. He also brought the post-game buffet into his office. Lasorda promptly informed us that as a young child, he stared at a can of carnation instant milk. The logo said, "Contented cows give better milk." He's maintained the philosophy to this day, believing that happy, comfortable players produce better on the field.

That's not to say, of course, that Lasorda hasn't practiced tough love when necessary. He re-lived a classic Jesse Orosco moment that had the crowd roaring with laughter.

He also told one of the book's best anecdotes, the story of Buster Maynard. Tommy grew up, like most young kids, loving the national pastime and dreaming of a chance to go to a game. When he finally had the chance, he bought a program and asked players for autographs. Maynard pushed Lasorda out of the way. A few years later, as a pitcher, Lasorda heard the PA system announce that Buster Maynard was up to bat. He proceeded to throw at him until a fight broke out. As you might guess, he has a strong opinion about players signing autographs for fans, especially kids.

His proudest moment came as manager of the USA Olympic team in 2000 when his US team battled to beat the always strong Cubans (our very own Jon Rauch among the team's participants) to win the Gold medal. Lasorda, ever the patriot, launched into his heart-felt plea for Americans to support members of the military, whom he called his true heroes.

He took questions from the crowd ranging from inquires about Ted Williams, Don Sutton, sportsmanship, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully, Dodger Town at Vero Beach, 7th and 8th inning specialists, the Designated Hitter, Joe Torre, the length of the season, his famous diatribe at Paul Olden and the Philly Phanatic and mascots in general. The night's most enjoyable moment came when a young Phillies fan began to tell Lasorda that he broke his heart during a playoff series. Lasorda took charge and asked the fan a number of questions to test his recollection of the game. One by one he described Philly mistake after mistake that led to the Dodger win that night, silencing the fan and bringing the crowd to another bout of wild laughter.

All in all, Lasorda told the crowd how blessed he is to have been given the opportunity to do what he loves all his life. "I am an ordinary man...," he continued to remind those in attendance. But yet, the baseball legend has 2 World Series Championships and a Gold Medal for Team USA in the Olympics. He has dined with presidents, met with corporate leaders, received honorary degrees, spoken to the military academies, and shaped and defined our national pastime. He has lived the dream -- his way.

More Tommy Lasorda Links:

Tommy's World -- His Baseball Blog

Lasorda Wine

Tommy's Official Bio at LA Dodgers.com

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