(Tommy Lasorda and S, in studio)
With the help of Bill Plaschke, Tommy Lasorda's book, I Live for This, is an exceptionally easy and fast read while remaining entertaining and genuine throughout. I found it in the clearance section at Barnes and Noble one day while browsing, and after reading just a few chapters from it I was back at the store buying the remaining copies. I finished the book a few days later, and by then my copy was all marked up- chapters circled and quotes underlined all over. It's rare that I find a quote I love that moves me to underline it in a book, but with his book it must have been every other page with some type of mark or annotation on it. His passion for the game was so obvious and raw. If I didn't love him before this book, then I definitely had a new hero after the read. Baseball lives within his soul, and his personality reflects it- it is one with the purest of love for the game of baseball.
To be honest, I was nervous when the opportunity presented itself for me to meet him. I'm always scared that I have built these people up in my head to be greater than what they really are. But, for once, I was not let down. He is the person portrayed in that book, in every single way. In the book it talks about how he treats women and even that was apparent when I met him- I tried a number of times to hold the door for him, but he wouldn't allow it- that was "the man's job" he'd say. He also never swears in front of women. He is a respectable man in every way. But, despite me being such a big fan I didn't sit there and gush. With Tommy, you listen. He'll go on for hours telling stories from his life, to anyone who will listen. It was an honor to sit with him and talk to him.
This is an excerpt from his book, which encompasses him not only as a player, but as a person:
As hard as Lasorda tried, he pitched the way he fought -- too aggressively, with blood everywhere. Lasorda's first major league start was in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, one of the greatest teams ever, a roster boasting future Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, and Pee Wee Reese. This was the first Brooklyn team to win a world championship. This was also the perfect team on which Lasorda could get that first big-league start, because the Dodgers had such a commanding win-loss record that even a junk-throwing lefty couldn't mess it up.
With the team leading in the standings by double-digit games, Lasorda took the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals. He wanted to show his nemesis, Walter Alston, that he was more than just a mouth. He was eager to show he could be a big part of a team that he knew would win a championship. Alas, he did neither.
He walked the first batter, Wally Moon. He bounced his next pitch past Campanella to the backstop, moving Moon to second. He stepped off the mound. He wiped the sweat from his nose. Oh, no, he was thinking. Not again. Please, not again.
He stared down the next batter, Bill Virdon. He growled at him. He shook his head at him. It didn't matter. He couldn't fight his way through this. He walked Virdon. This brought up the great Stan Musial, and now Lasorda's head was back in Norristown.
He was a third-string pitcher again. He wasn't good enough again. Forget his fastball, forget his curveball. Lasorda would have to trick his way out of this jam. So he threw, of all things, a knuckleball. Campanella couldn't catch it. The ball bounced to the backstop, and now the runners were on second and third.
A Hall of Famer at the plate, two runners in scoring position on two walks and two wild pitches, and Lasorda's mind continued to spin. He had worked all of his life for this? He had fought from Cuba to Greenville for the right to do this? Embarrass himself in his first big chance? Show Alston that he was right? That Tommy Lasorda was a better heckler than a pitcher? Life was so unfair. Those trick pitches worked in the minor leagues. Why not now? Why didn't I get the big arm that could blow hitters away? Why didn't I get the great legs that could push me toward a strikeout? Why was my body not as strong as my heart? It was so unfair.
"Then," Lasorda remembers, "I threw the greatest curveball of my career."
And in the greatest out of his career, he quite unbelievably whiffed the Man, striking out the swinging Musial.
If only the story ended here. But the stories of Lasorda's play ing career never ended here. They never ended in a strikeout. They never ended in triumph. As with many great sports motivators, all Lasorda's playing stories ended in misery.
With Ken Boyer at the plate, Lasorda threw another wild pitch -- his third of the inning -- and Moon raced toward home. Lasorda ran in from the mound and blocked the plate like a catcher -- except he forgot he wasn't wearing shin guards. Moon slid toward the plate and sliced up Lasorda's leg. The kneecap was cut open. Blood dripped from his knee into his sock. Lasorda finished the inning, hobbled to the dugout, and tried to hide the gaping wound. But Pee Wee Reese saw it. And Jackie Robinson, who grew sick at the sight of blood, smelled it. And Alston, looking for any excuse to rid himself of Lasorda, immediately ordered Clem Labine to take over on the mound. Lasorda protested until a team doctor warned him that he would be risking his future ability to walk if he returned to action. This only made Lasorda protest more, until finally his teammates Don Newcombe and Russ Meyer grabbed him by the arms and dragged him screaming into the dugout.
"I was twenty-seven years old. I had been working my entire life for that moment. I knew how precious it might be," Lasorda recalls. "And then it was gone. Forever."
He was right. That was his only start that season, his only start for the Dodgers, and one of only six starts in a career during which he was 0 4 with a 6.48 ERA.
"Now you see why I wanted to go back to that mound?" he says. "Being able to walk right for the rest of my life didn't really matter. Being able to pitch for the Dodgers did."
(To read the rest of this chapter, CLICK HERE)
I have passed his book on to many friends. After I went back to Barnes and Noble to buy the remaining copies, I thought of all my friends in the minors and in college ball who would benefit from his book, and I sent it to them. His story reached deeper than baseball. If possible, it gave me an even deeper admiration and appreciation for the men who play the game. One of my good friends in the minors had been struggling a lot, so I sent him the book. For a guy who never reads, he finished that book in one sitting while on the team bus to Albuquerque, and his book was just as marked up as mine. Tommy's passion helped him forgot about the contract and ignore the numbers he was struggling with. The next day he stepped on the field and remembered how fun high school ball was, and how lucky he was to be given the opportunity to be playing professional league ball. He's been a different person since that book, and so have I.
Tommy is a big reason I am the way I am today. His book reinforced the way I felt about the game. I realized that I wasn't the only one that looked at baseball as a lifestyle and not just a hobby. Baseball has given him everything in life, from paying the bills to teaching him life lessons. But more than anything, it gave his life meaning and passion. He has remained humble his whole life, never letting fame or fortune change him.
I have the up most respect for this man, and I love him for never letting anyone change him. I feel blessed to have been able to meet one of my heroes- it's something I will never forget. If you are interested in reading the book check out Amazon.com or a local book store. If you love baseball, you'll love this book and you'll love this man. Without Tommy, baseball would not be the same for me.