Every once in a while, we need to revisit the soul of Dodger Blue Heaven. It should be made mandatory.
It's not because it is an easy column. It's not because everybody loves the Dodger Blue Heaven thing, or even loves its leader. Many do not.
It's because it is Tommy Lasorda, and there will never be another like him.
The other night at Dodger Stadium, just like every night at Dodger Stadium, Lasorda was in full stride. That is no easy feat when you are almost 87 and have your own tombstone plaque in your office that says: "Dodger Stadium was his address and every ballpark was his home."
The birth date is there (1927) and the other spot remains vacant.
"I can't quit," he says. "I want to walk out of here when I'm 100."
On this night, it was merely another chance for Lasorda to spread the gospel according to Tommy. A small group of employees from a company in La Verne named Haaker Equipment had made a charitable donation that brought a chance to meet Lasorda. The amount of time and energy Lasorda donates to such things is stunning for a man his age.
The group got tickets to the game against the San Diego Padres, dinner at his Tommy Lasorda's Italian Trattoria behind the right-field stands — "C'mon, bring these guys some more meatballs, and where's the pasta?" — and stories.
Ah, the stories.
—"Let me tell you about [former Dodger] Mickey Hatcher. I had these blue pants I just loved. I felt good when I wore them. Loved 'em. Took them to a game one night and was going to wear them afterward. Then the game starts, they tell me to look up at the flagpole. There are my blue pants, with the rear end cut out of them. It was Hatcher."
—"I'm everybody's godfather now. I got 18. Seems like every kid that graduates from junior high or kindergarten, I write a check. Manny Mota's kid comes to me and says he wants me to be his godfather. I tell him he's got a godfather. He says, 'Ya, but I don't like him.' "
—"Tony Gywnn was maybe the toughest guy we went against to get out. He'd hit the ball five feet left of the shortstop. Next time up, I'd move the shortstop five feet over and he'd hit it where he used to be."
—Steve Sax suddenly couldn't make the throw from second to first. "I took him for a walk and I said, 'How many guys can hit .300 in the majors?' [He was hitting about .316 then]. I said almost none. Then I said, 'How many guys can steal 40 bases in the majors?' [He had about 41 then]. Almost none. Then I said, 'How many guys can make the throw from second to first? Probably a couple million.' He never made a bad throw again."
—"Just before we traded Mike Piazza, the word leaked about how much money he was asking. The fans booed him. He was devastated. I sat with him and he cried. I told him, they aren't booing you. They're boing the system. A guy making $150 a week comes to a game, hears those numbers and boos."
The Dodgers take care of their former manager and current advisor to the chairman as befits royalty. At Dodger Stadium, he is that.
He travels from his office to his restaurant in a golf cart and makes the day for dozens of fans. He greets each group with a wave, often a guarantee of a victory. They grab each other in delight over Tommy Lasorda speaking to them. The waves, smiles and thumbs-up never stop.
The term "ambassador" may bring to mind some guy in an office in Spain, but it fits Lasorda best.
—"Do I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame? Hell no. I have the guts to say that in public. Everybody else just hems and haws. When it was all coming down, I sent him a case of baseballs with a note that said, 'Sign these for me before you get suspended.' "
—"[Owner] Jerry Jones has me come and speak to the Dallas Cowboys. He wants me to motivate them. I tell them that, between now and this time next year, I'll speak to a million people. And if you guys don't win the Super Bowl, I'll tell all million of them what #@$&$@# players you are."
It is time to get back in the golf cart — "Make sure these guys got enough pizza" — and head to his seat for the game. He tells two police officers nearby that he wanted to be police chief and he lost by one vote. They both say they'd take him.
Then it is off on another ride through the parking lot to please another bunch of Dodgers fans.
There might have been a time when this seemed self-serving or overdone. That time is long past. He is 87 in a month and still ready to fight anybody who doesn't love the Dodgers.
The walk is slower, the hearing less sharp, even the handwriting a bit shaky.
But the legend only grows.