Awarding a Team Player : Lasorda Foundation Honors Billy Crystal for Community Efforts

"You have to understand what an honor this is," cracked Billy Crystal before he received the Creative Achievement Award at a benefit for the Tommy Lasorda Jr. Memorial Foundation.

"Getting a creative achievement award from Tommy Lasorda! I hear it was between me and the chick from 'Showgirls.' "

With that, the comedian was presented with a life-size crystal bat and ball by Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda and his wife, Jo, who live in Fullerton.

The $500-per-person gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel last week grossed nearly $1 million for the foundation.

The foundation was established by the Lasordas last year to raise funds for a proposed Yorba Linda recreational facility to memorialize their late son. Tommy (Spunky) Lasorda Jr. was 33 when he died in 1991.

"We wanted to honor Billy Crystal for all he has done for the industry and the community," said Tommy Lasorda. "He is a good friend, a fine man and a good baseball player."

Crystal, who starred in "Forget Paris," "City Slickers" and "When Harry Met Sally," is a human-rights advocate who co-hosted (with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg) six "Comic Relief" telethons for HBO. Proceeds of more than $20 million were used for housing and medical care for the homeless.

During the gala reception, where guests such as singer Tony Bennett and attorney Robert Shapiro rubbed elbows with actress Loni Anderson and baseball star Steve Garvey, Crystal said he was honored to receive the foundation's first award.

"It's a really nice, terrific thing. The Lasordas are great people who have overcome something horrible and are doing something good for young people," he said. "That's why, when they asked me to receive this, I said, 'Without a doubt.' "

The Lasordas plan to memorialize their son with a facility that serves youth in the areas of sports and the arts.

"We want to give kids an opportunity to stay off the streets," said Tommy. "If I hadn't had sports in my life, I might not be in the position I'm in today. Sports has kept me on the straight and narrow path."

The couple had planned to build the facility on the grounds of the Yorba Linda Friends Church, where they attend services. "But the church has grown so large that we are looking for property somewhere around the Nixon Library," Jo said. "Nixon's father was one of the first elders of our church."

Guests bid on baseball-related memorabilia--photographs autographed by Mantle, bats by Strawberry, balls by Koufax--before descending the hotel's grand staircase to dine in the salmon-pink Crystal Ballroom on swordfish and filet mignon.

"It's really great to be back at the amazing Beverly Hills Hotel, with its refurbishment and renovation," said Crystal, from the stage. "It was apparently done by the people who did Cher."

Festivities included video salutes to Crystal and Spunky Lasorda. And when guests weren't laughing at onstage antics by Rob Reiner and Alan King, they were listening to Bennett sing "Fly Me to the Moon" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Shapiro sat at a table with event chairman Donald T. Sterling--owner of the Los Angeles Clippers--and Beverly and Bob Cohen, owners of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills (and owners of John Wayne's bay-side Newport Beach digs.)

Just when guests thought it was all over, Jay Leno bounced into the ballroom, on his way to host "The Tonight Show" for NBC.

He lobbed the audience a couple of O.J. jokes before heading out the door.

Also on the scene: Milton Berle, 87, (raving about his new exercise/comedy video, "for seniors only," he said. "I dress up as Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda in drag"); Naomi Judd; Marilu Henner; Red Buttons; Rod Steiger; Ann Miller; Gloria Allred; Dennis Franz; Cathy Lee Crosby and Tony Curtis.


Misty over Mathis: Pacific Symphony supporters met backstage with singer Johnny Mathis after his appearance in Segerstrom Hall on Saturday night. "He's a little shy; parties are not his thing," an orchestra spokesman told guests as they waited for the singer to join them in Founders Hall. "He's asked for no speeches or applause. We don't expect him to stay too long."

But when Mathis--who had changed from a tux to white dress shirt, gray slacks and tennies--joined Pacific Symphony supporters, he seemed as relaxed and warm as he had been on stage, thrilling the audience with golden oldies that included "Misty," "Chances Are," and "The Twelfth of Never."

First to shake the singer's hand was symphony buff Marvin Weiss, who attended the reception with his wife, Pat. "We spent our honeymoon at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas when you appeared there 37 years ago," he said.

Said the 60-year-old Mathis: "I did three shows a night, four on weekends then. I made a pittance. The only way I made any money was to gamble."

Working with a symphony orchestra is a joy, said Mathis, who still headlines on the Las Vegas circuit. "They are the best musicians in the world." But working anywhere is wonderful, he added. "Every night is a new experience."

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