Like wise men to the manger, so do the followers of Tommy Lasorda flock to his humble office in Dodgertown, bearing gifts, all eminently edible.
With a heavy heart--although not heavy with cholesterol--Tommy Lasorda gazes upon the gifts and just says no.
Tommy is on a diet.
Did I say a diet? Sorry. The Diet.
All that’s riding on it are a man’s pride, the fate of a World Series championship ballclub and the success or failure of several charitable causes, including a new home for nuns in Nashville.
By now, everyone has heard of The Diet, but some do not believe.
Three cops from Atlantic City have come to Dodgertown bearing three muffler-sized hoagies, gifts from a famed Atlantic City hoagie joint called the White House.
Another pal has sent Lasorda a box filled with containers, carefully labeled--"Miniature beef cutlets for Tommy Lasorda,” and “Fresh homemade roasted red peppers for Tommy Lasorda.”
A local guy named Vince has just arrived with a vat of his wife’s linguine with broccoli.
The night before, Tommy’s brother flew in from Norristown, Pa., bearing homemade linguine. Same night, another friend airlifted in some black beans and rice.
“I’ve had mighty tough temptations, God-a-mighty,” Lasorda says, beads of sweat on his forehead. “Those hoagies last night, I wanted to eat ‘em so bad. I’m telling you, people stand in line all night to buy these.”
Cue the horror music. The hoagies are back. One of the two-foot-long monsters remains from the night before. It has been hiding in the clubhouse refrigerator and now it is waiting for Lasorda when he comes into his office from the morning’s B game.
“Beach, have one of these,” Lasorda barks at bullpen coach Mark Cresse, handing him a section of the monster. Within minutes, Tommy has handed out the last of the last hoagie.
“The bread on these, I’m telling you, just try the bread,” Lasorda pleads to a reporter who has turned down a slice of hoagie heaven. Tommy rips pieces off the French roll that Cresse has in his mouth, and distributes the samples.
You break bread with Lasorda, pal, you eat broken bread.
“People have tried to copy this bread, they can’t do it. Oh, my God. God-a-mighty.”
I eat because I don’t want to leave scraps of temptation around the office. I don’t want to be held accountable some day for homeless nuns in Nashville.
The Diet has taken on an existence of its own. It started as a friendly bet, Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson offering their portly skipper $20,000 for charity if he can take off 20 pounds and keep it off all season. Orel has since bumped up his offer with an eight-pound bonus clause.
A liquid diet product that Tommy has hooked up with has donated money to two charities, and somehow, I’m not clear on the details, money from diet donations will help build a much-needed home for those nuns in Nashville.
“I’m going to make every effort to build those nuns a new home,” Lasorda says.
Perhaps such a dwelling can be constructed using log-sized hoagies, lashed together with al dente spaghetti, with marinara mortar.
Perhaps, if Lasorda diets down to a pencil profile and builds that Nashville home, the story could be made into a heartwarming movie titled, “Slim and Nuns.”
Perhaps Tommy will join the Dodger pitching rotation.
“All day long, I’m not tired,” Lasorda shouts. “I pitched two hours of batting practice the other day. Two hours! Then, a couple days later, an hour and a half, all curveballs!”
And no meatballs.
Lasorda went cold turkey on cigarettes 24 years ago, the very day the Surgeon General’s report came out. Seven years ago, he stopped--"Boom!"--drinking vodka when his wife, Jo, suggested the hard stuff might be aggravating the arthritis in his fingers.
And 852 times he has tried to cut down his eating, and failed each time, after brief bursts of success. This diet, The Diet, is a mission, a challenge, a calling, a crusade.
“If I can’t discipline myself, how can I discipline my players?” Lasorda asks.
To quit now, to sneak out the back door on a bet made with his two stars over plates of steaming pasta, would be a monumental loss of face. Instead, Tommy is experiencing loss of chin.
What does Lasorda eat? Gruel, basically. For breakfast he eats a bowl of cooked oat bran, with wheat bran sprinkled on top. Mmmm, mmmm. Goldilocks, by comparison, was a gourmet.
Now it’s lunch time, and Vince has arrived with his wife’s linguine-in-a-drum.
“Nobody left me a pass,” says Vince, a 76-year-old man with an Italian accent. “I told the guard I had Tommy’s lunch. He leaned in the car, smelled it and waved me through.”
Lasorda stands in the doorway of his office and snags passers-by for the brunch feast. Soon he has assembled three Dodger trainers, coach Bill Russell, pitcher John Tudor, a reporter and an FBI man who has come to Dodgertown to deliver an anti-gambling lecture to the team.
With great enthusiasm, Tommy dishes the linguine onto paper plates and feeds the multitude.
Now his own lunch arrives. A trainer tips a blender and pours a milky-white protein shake into a paper cup. Lasorda downs it in two gulps and gives himself a white mustache.
A small object pops out of his mouth and clatters across the floor.
“Is that a tooth, Tom?” asks trainer Pat Screnar.
It’s been weeks since Lasorda has chewed anything tougher than soggy oat kernels. Maybe it’s true what they say about teeth: Use ‘em or lose ‘em.
“It’s a chunk of ice,” Lasorda says, with fly-in-my-soup indignation. “Criminy, can’t you guys blend down the ice?”
Like James Bond, who ordered his martinis “shaken, not stirred,” Lasorda has become a mixed-drink connoisseur.
Tonight, he’ll go to a restaurant with his coaches, who will order pizza and pasta, and Tommy will order a salad. And each slice of pizza he does not eat will be a brick in a house in Nashville.