Baseball MLB

A Night with Tommy Lasorda!

I just got back from a fundraiser this evening at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School.  This wasn’t your ordinary Catholic fundraiser of Bingo or Casino Night.  Tonight, they hosted a “Take Me Out to the Ballpark” night with Tommy Lasorda.

One of the parents at the school is Logan White, VP, Amateur Scouting for the Dodgers.  With the Dodgers in town for Spring Training, it was a perfect time to tap into the connections and raise some money for the school.

The night started with a general mixer in the courtyard, then we moved inside to the school’s new auditorium.  After a brief intro by Sentinel Booster President, Bill Mager, Logan White had the privilege of introducing the guest of honor.

Before introducing the legend however, Logan acknowledged another dignitary in the audience, Ann Meyers Drysdale.  Ann was quite the basketball player in her day – even trying out for the Indiana Pacers in 1980.  You can check out her extensive credentials online.  She’s currently the President and GM for the Phoenix Mercury and VP for the Suns.

Her connection to Seton is unknown to me, but she also hosted another event in the past.  Her connection on this night, however, is due to her late husband, Dodger legend and Hall of Famer, Don Drysdale.  One interesting note on this couple is that they are the first husband & wife to be members of the Hall of Fame of their respective sports.

You could tell there is a special bond between Logan and Tommy.  During the introduction, you could see White get choked up.  He said that Tommy was like a father to him – and I’m guessing there are many, many Dodgers that have that same relationship with the jovial, yet fiercely competitive manager.

A “call” from Kirk Gibson

As Lasorda took to the podium, he said that White had played up to Tommy’s love of country in order to secure him for the evening.  I’ll paraphrase his story, but he said White approached him and said, “Tommy, you love this country, right”.  And Tommy replied “Of course”.  “So then, you also must respect the Constitution, right”.  “Absolutely” Lasorda replied.  “Well then, you must really embrace free speech”.  Lasorda said, “it’s what makes us great”.  To which White pounced, “Good, because you’re going to give one to Seton Catholic”.  The audience roared and Tommy was off and running.

Like any good comedian, it’s always hard to remember the stories, but at the end of the show, you just know it was good.  He touched on stories about his marriage of 63 years, his coaching days, his fundraising efforts for a convent in Nashville and a couple of Steve Sax stories.  All with perfect timing and a punchline that was delivered like a 3-2 fastball that you just didn’t see coming.

One story he told was about his hatred for the Cincinnati Reds.  When he took over as manager in 1976, the Reds had already been coming off of a World Series win.  Then after Tommy’s first season, the Reds won the Series again.  After that season Tommy was going all over the country talking about how the Dodgers would never lose to the Cincinnati Reds again.  This angered the GM, but Tommy stood by his words and wanted his entire team to know that they needed to take on an attitude of not losing to the team that had previously owned the league.  Needless to say, the Dodgers won the pennant the next two years.  Conveniently left out of the story however, was that they lost to the Yankees in both Series.

Tommy would get his revenge on the Yanks just three years later to capture his first Series Title in 1981.  And then of course, who could forget one of the most memorable HRs in Series history.  Kirk Gibson’s walk-off winner against the A’s that ultimately led to his 2nd WS Title.  As an A’s fan, that was one of the worst sports moments of my life – that is, until “Wide Right”.

By the way, a little off topic.  But speaking of Gibby, is it me or does he sound an awful lot like Carl Spackler?

Sure, Lasorda was a manager for 20 years in the same organization – a feat he reminded us was done by only four others.  He’s a 2-time NL Manager of the Year.  He even played for a couple of years in the Bigs. And believe it or not, he’s actually been with the Dodgers organization for over 60 years.  But his stories and delivery rank him up there with some of the best comedians I’ve ever seen.

Not only was he not paid for his appearance, but after his performance, he committed to donate $1,000 back to the school.  What a guy!

After the 30 minute or so performance, we went back out to the courtyard for some ballpark fare.  Hot dogs, sausages and a few side were served in the buffet line.  And back at the tables, they had peanuts, crackerjacks, licorice and sunflower seeds laid out.

They raffled off a couple of Seton baseball jerseys with Lasorda printed on the back and they even had balls for sale, just in case you forgot to show up with something for him to sign.

With dinner complete, we all got in line for autographs and photos.

For me, I wasn’t sure what to get autographed.  Since Tommy had such a short playing career, he didn’t have a lot of baseball cards on the market.  Any my stash of cards is from 74-77, well after his playing years and he wasn’t exactly a household name in the mid-70s.

So I thought about getting a photo signed.  Instead of just grabbing one from online, yesterday, I reached out to a guy I know that’s a professional sports photographer here in the Valley, Mark Rebilas.  I asked him if he had any pictures of Tommy that I could buy.  He ended up sending me a file earlier today that I could have made into prints.

He said the picture was from March 12, 2010.  So, this was after Tommy’s coaching career, but he was still actively involved with the organization.  It was taken out in Glendale AZ at their spring training camp.  As I researched the photo, I noticed the patch on the right shoulder said “1st World Series Championship” with 1955 in the center.  The patch was to commemorate the 55th anniversary of their 1st World Series.

Zoom of photo
Actual Patch

After digging a little further into his background, I found out that Tommy was actually a part of the Dodger organization in 1955, then the Brooklyn Dodgers, and actually won a Ring from the Series – although he didn’t actually play in the Series.

Another thing that jumped out to me was his ring.  It looked like a World Series ring, but smaller and not nearly as gaudy.  I thought it might have been his ’55 ring.  It was close, but it didn’t match the photos from the web.  Nor did it look like the ’81 or ’88 rings he also earned.  As it turns out, it’s his Hall of Fame Ring.

In researching this, he was once asked about which World Series ring he wears.  His response was “It’s the top of the mountain. You crawl, you scratch, you laugh, then you get this. I used to wear World Series rings, but I’d never know which one to wear – 1988 or 1981. One was full of talent. The other was a bunch of no-named who scratched and clawed their way to the top.”

Zoom of photo
Photo courtesy of Tom Hoffarth

The last bit of trivia on this photo was that it was a game played against, none other than, yep, you guessed it – the Reds.

So, in one photo, little did Mark realize at the time, but he captured quite a story of Lasorda’s career in one shot.  Nice work as usual Mr. Rebilas.

Photo courtesy of Mark Rebilas

We also picked up a ball for Tommy to sign as well.  Might as well add that to the collection for the Man Cave.

He greeted my wife, Lisa, first with a warm, “how are you young lady” welcome.  As he did, I mentioned that she’s a Pennsylvania girl – playing to his Norristown, PA roots.  He quickly asked where and when he heard Scranton, he lit up a little and said he’d been there many times.  And more so in Hazleton.

When asked about Halzeton, he said it was because they have a lot of Italian events there that he likes to attend.

When it was all said and done, the school ended up with quite a nice fund raiser.  At the same time, about 200 baseball fans walked away with their mementos of autographed items, including someone with a Lasorda bobblehead, but more importantly, their memories of night spent with a legend.

I’m so thrilled that when I look at that photo or baseball from now on, I won’t be thinking about how I scored it off eBay or through a silent auction, but I can recall the laughs I shared with the legend.

Thanks Sentinel Booster Club for a unique experience!

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