Drivin' With Tommy, Happy 92nd Sept. 22
Updated: Feb 2
Earlier this year I met Tommy Lasorda, thanks to his assistant Felipe Ruiz, who arranged a casual Sunday afternoon coffee at his local Fullerton Starbucks. Tommy turned out in a sparkling-white golf shirt with the Dodger-blue emblem. He was a total gentleman, opening the door for me, even helping a woman through the doorway in a wheelchair as he greeted admirers with a low-key nod or handshake. Tommy was 14 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He recalled those cold mornings in Pennsylvania coal country, bundled up in a hat and coat, selling newspapers on the street corner in Norristown. He was glad to sell all of his issues that day, because the money helped his family. In October 1945, Tommy joined the Army, shipping out for basic training at Fort McClellan, where he drilled with a rifle and held a job managing the base gym. His next hitch was Fort Meade, where he sent spare earnings back home to help his father repair the rowhouse at 713 Walnut Street. Tommy said he loved the military -- everything about it -- structure, discipline, brotherhood, respect and the loyalty that inspired 3 simple rules he lives by.
Persistence: Tommy credits his wife Jo for his success and they've lived in the same modest one-story rancher for more than 50 years. Though I was a total stranger, certainly not a Dodgers insider, he invited me to meet his wife in person to hear about the early days when he rang her up, 15 times, until she agreed to go on a date. Leaving my rental car in the lot, I jumped into the back of his Dodgermobile, a spit-shined black Escalade, supplied with Dodger Blue cups, chairs, banners, balls, towels, hats, toothpicks, and pretty much any other imaginable stock item for events. Jo is a lovely, strong-willed Southern woman from Greenville, SC -- truly Tommy's bedrock. We talked about the arc of his career, their life, and the things that mattered most. I learned that when Tommy was offered millions by Steinbrenner and Ted Turner, she always encouraged him to stay with the Dodgers, saying, "You love the Dodgers, they pay your salary, they make you happy, the Dodgers is your forever home." Realizing a long time ago that money and fame come and go, that day, Jo told me that “persistence was their bread-and-butter.”
Teamwork Is the Key: When I asked Tommy what he was most proud of in his life he laughed. "I get that question all the time," he said. "Let me put it this way .... I'm like a guy in a boat with five guys. We run into a storm. With five other guys we make it through the storm. That's what I've tried to do with my life."
Live without Fear: Like many WWII veterans, Tommy is relentlessly fearless - it's a different kind of fearlessness, without bounds or trepidation that my generation or even the next may never know. It comes from simplicity, and purpose. Tommy credits the military for reinforcing his sense of purpose: to serve others. “The military teaches you to be loyal and ready to defend the USA in any way you can. When in uniform you remember you are representing the greatest country in the world," Tommy said, adding that he enjoyed the Army because he felt like he was "part of something bigger – representing the United States everywhere he went. And you know it," he said, pointing his finger.