Drivin' With Tommy, Happy 92nd Sept. 22
Earlier this year I met Tommy Lasorda, thanks to his assistant Felipe, who arranged a Sunday afternoon coffee at the 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, helping a woman in a wheelchair, greeting every person with a handshake who came by the table. Tommy was 14 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Every day he bundled up in a coat selling newspapers on the street corner in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He was glad to sell all of his issues that day, because the money helped his family. By October 1945, Tommy joined the Army, where he was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, sending money back home to help his father repair the house. At Fort McClellan in Alabama, Tommy was in charge of the gym. He spent his spare time in the service, perfecting his pitching. With absolute clarity -100 Tommy - he told me that he loved the military, sharing 3 simple rules to live by.
Persistence: Tommy credits his wife Jo for his success and they've lived in the same modest house for more than 50 years. Though I was a total stranger, and a Southern one, he invited me to meet his wife in person, so I jumped into the back of his "Dodgermobile," a black Escalade, replete with Dodger Blue cups, chairs, banners, balls, towels, hats and other stock items for events. Jo is a lovely, strong-willed Southern girl from Greenville, SC -- truly Tommy's bedrock. 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: 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."
Military: Like many WWII veterans, Tommy is fearless - it's a different kind of fearlessness my generation may never know. 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.