There really is nothing to compare to a visit by Tommy Lasorda. To be in the Hall of Fame Dodger manager’s presence is awe-inspiring, hyperkinetic, evangelical (in a baseball sense) — all at an intense decibel level. And it’s all bathed in Dodger Blue.
Lasorda came to California State University, Northridge on April 11 to sign the new book, Tommy Lasorda My Way, which was penned by Lasorda’s longtime press coordinator and assistant, Colin Gunderson. The afternoon was packed with plenty of activity.
Shortly after meeting CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Brandon Martin upon his arrival, Lasorda went on to do one of his favorite things — talk to baseball players. He surprised the CSUN Baseball team with a pregame visit in the team’s clubhouse, delivering an impassioned speech that would rival any from the 1988 World Series.
“You’ve got to play for the name on the front of your jersey, not the back!”
“You have to pull on the same side of the rope!”
“If you execute the fundamentals, you will help your team win games!”
Pacing back and forth and rattling the walls of the clubhouse with his words, Lasorda gave the Matadors his A-game inspirational speech. The looks on the players’ faces showed their determination to live up to the icon’s fervent talk.
CSUN Head Baseball Coach Greg Moore, who grew up in Southern California watching Lasorda’s Dodger teams, was grateful and impressed with the energy and passion displayed by the 87-year-old.
“He is a one-of-a-kind ambassador,” Moore said after the Saturday contest against UC Santa Barbara. “One player’s parent told me that fans shared Tommy Lasorda memories throughout the game. It’s rare that one person can light up an entire facility. With his care for each person he met, Mr. Lasorda did.”
After doing an interview with ESPN3, which broadcast the game, Lasorda and Gunderson signed books before a pregame ceremony during which Harrison and Martin presented Lasorda with a CSUN Baseball jersey. Then it was time to play ball.
But Lasorda was far from done. He had more books to sign (the entire inventory was sold out an hour before the game started) and more fans to meet. Then he had a ballgame to watch.
This is the Lasorda that Gunderson wanted to share with readers. Instead of a straight biography, the author chose to interview former players and friends of the longtime Dodger manager to share what made Lasorda so special to each of them.
“Tommy is a man of the people,” Gunderson said. “He always takes care of the fans. He’s famous for a lot of things and deservedly so. He’s famous for winning. He’s famous for being a personality, and he enjoys that stuff. What his life is really about is being of service to other people. If he’s in your life, he’s in your life to make you better at whatever it is you want to do.
“He was always there to help his players realize their dreams. He’s always hands on and willing to go above the call of duty to help them get to wherever they need to get in the game. For the fans to applaud him today, it’s probably because he’s a Hall of Fame manager. It’s also because he is a Hall of Fame manager who came out to CSUN to talk to the team, to meet the president, to talk to the coach, to sign for the fans and take pictures. He’s all about the fans and all about helping other people.”
Gunderson noted that Lasorda was a baseball pioneer, paved the way for such managers as Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
“Tommy changed the paradigm of managing in the major leagues,” Gunderson said. “Before Tommy, managers weren’t very outgoing or affectionate. If you couldn’t help the ballclub win, see you later. When Tommy came in, he hugged them, he took them out to eat. He knew their wives’ names, their kids’ names. What he tried to do is foster a family atmosphere. What he tried to do is be an open communicator. Tommy was way before the curve, because his players loved him like a father and he loved his players like sons. He was able to be affectionate to them and to communicate his affection for them. That really changed a lot in the game. I hope that comes through in the book.”
The Hall of Famer’s impassioned pregame talk on Saturday came close to inspiring the Matadors to surge past No. 13 UC Santa Barbara. CSUN’s Jerry Keel and UCSB’s Justin Jacome engaged in an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel, which was scoreless until the eighth inning (the Gauchos broke up Keel’s no-hitter in the seventh). Lasorda sat right up against the fence on the first-base side, intently watching the action.
After the Gauchos scored three times in the eighth inning, the Matadors drove in two runs in the bottom of the ninth — and they had the tying run on base before the rally fell short. CSUN took revenge the following day, outlasting the Gauchos in 13 innings in a 3-2 victory.
Surveying the event, Gunderson reflected on his years with Lasorda. The manager’s former right-hand man had so many great experiences, he said, he wanted fans to see just how special afternoons like the one at CSUN are to fans of the Dodgers, Lasorda — and America’s pastime.
“When I was writing the book – hearing the stories as I’m writing – it took me back to those places where I was in the dining room and Orel Hershiser walks up. He’s a childhood hero of mine. They were telling the same stories,” Gunderson said. “Sitting in the visiting clubhouse with Mike Scioscia, and they’re telling the same stories. So many times I’d say to myself, ‘I wish the whole world could experience what I’m experiencing right now.’ Now they can, because I tried to present that in the book.”
Fans still wishing to purchase a copy of Tommy Lasorda My Way can visit the book’s website or place an order on Amazon.
The relationship between CSUN and the Dodgers continues on April 27 at Dodger Stadium, when the Dodgers host a special night to honor 12 CSUN physical therapy scholars who are receiving scholarships through the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and the Roy and Roxie Campanella Foundation. A special group ticket sale has been established for CSUN alumni and friends of the university.