Are the Dodgers getting you down? Are you tired of all the McCourt mangling and Brox bashing and Kemp crashing? Do you sometimes wonder if anyone likes them anymore?
Well, someone still does. Steer your computer to YouTube, punch in " Tommy Lasorda national anthem,” and click on the 51-second clip to find that person.
Lasorda, for the first time in his 82 years, does the only thing he has never done on a baseball field. He sings the national anthem. He’s at the Dodgers’ triple-A park in Albuquerque, and he’s part of a female singing group, and it’s an amateur video, but that’s clearly his voice, selling his favorite team by crooning his favorite song.
And, boy, is he bad.
“The ladies asked me to join them; they put me in the middle in front of the microphone, what was I gonna say?” Lasorda says with a laugh.
He never says no. Even now, his round body aging and his beloved team decaying and everybody forgetting the days when the Dodgers were as big as his appetite, he never says no.
This summer he’s been the Willy Loman of baseball teams, peddling lost glory in faraway places, from Chattanooga to Midland, from the Inland Empire to the New Mexico desert, from adoring seniors to oddball pitchers such as Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t allowed a run in six appearances.
You know who taught the former catcher how to throw a curveball, right? Lasorda showed Jansen during winter workouts at Dodger Stadium. The old guy hasn’t thrown that pitch in more than 50 years, yet he still acts as if he whiffed somebody with it last week.
“Within 10 minutes, he learned it,” said Lasorda. “I said, ‘I didn’t think you were that smart!’ ”
Let the rest of the sports world discount the Dodgers. Lasorda’s love is unconditional, and his willingness to do anything for them is unmatched.
We forget this about him, don’t we? Those of us who follow sports in this city forget that, while his constant blue bellowing may be the object of occasional eye-rolling, Lasorda’s singular public devotion to one baseball team virtually every day of his life is one of the most inspiring feats in Los Angeles Dodgers history. We forget how many people love him for this.
“Because you know him, you tend to forget who he really is,” says Christopher Leggio, owner of Mark Christopher Chevrolet in Ontario and who uses Lasorda for radio commercials. “We’ve had all kinds of people come through our doors saying they heard the Lasorda spots, asking to meet him or get his autograph. It’s still crazy. He’s still huge.”
Since writing a book with Lasorda several years ago, I have been reluctant to feature him in a column for fear that folks would think I was trying to sell copies. But with the recent passing of John Wooden, there are only a couple of priceless sports antiquities left in this town, and Lasorda is one of them, his glow even greater in a season when the Dodgers are so dull, that light worth embracing while it lasts.
So I invite myself to join him at lunch Tuesday with Leggio and some radio guys, and three hours later I’m aching and laughing and exhausted, Lasorda always Lasorda.
At one point during the meal, he stands up behind his chair and begins dancing. At another point, he brags about betting Mike Scioscia that he could climb off a Rose Parade float and bang on the door of a Pasadena home and use someone’s bathroom. Of course Lasorda won the bet.
“People know I will always love the Dodgers, and I guess there’s something to that,” he says of an affair that has now lasted 62 years.
His ring tone is a snippet from Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and so, every bit as corny as it sounds, he continues to do just that, giving more than 100 speeches a year, traveling throughout the country at a time when perhaps he should be slowing down.
Even though he’s acknowledged gaining weight, he says his health is good: “My blood pressure is 120 over 60, I ride the bike, I run on a trampoline, I’m doing great,” he says.
Still, everyone in the organization holds their breath each time he stumbles while bounding up stairs or sweats after a long speech. While nobody will say it, everyone is wondering it, so Lasorda is going to answer it, right now, once and for all.
No, he’s not quitting. Ever.
“No way, I ain’t never gonna stop,” he said. “I’ve got a saying — any man who really loves what he’s doing, old man sickness and death gets tired of chasing him ‘cause he knows he ain’t got no chance. I want to be 100 years old and giving a commencement speech somewhere.”
The rest of us can only hope we’re around long enough to listen to that speech. As long as he doesn’t sing.
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