Tommy Lasorda sing Take me out to the Ballgame 27 May.mp3
In 1980, I need a left-handed closer, and after only two months in professional baseball I gave that job to Steve Howe. At that point, Howe was only 21 years old, and people were very critical of me because if his young age and his lack of experience.
But like I told everybody, when I call the bullpen and talk to Mark Cresse, the bullpen coach, I didn’t ask him to check Howe’s age. I wanted to know if he was ready to pitch in the big leagues.
Today, 20-year old Clayton Kershaw is making his major league debut. He had tremendous success in double-A, and now we will see how he fares against Major League hitters.
I hope he does well, because he is an outstanding young man.
Good luck, Clayton.
I’ve even gone as far as China! When I left home to play professional baseball at the age of 17 I had never been more than 10 miles away from home. I was playing for the Schenectady Blue Jays, and since I didn’t know how to spell Schenectady I told my parents I was five miles away from Albany.
Six years ago today, May 23, 2002, I was given the honor of throwing out the first pitch of the Chinese Baseball League’s very first championship game.
A few months later the Chinese National team visited Dodger Stadium and worked out here. I talked to them, through an interpreter. It was funny because as I got louder in my talk, so did he. I also worked with the player sin hopes of making them better.
A few days ago the Chinese National team worked out at Dodger Stadium, and they have come a long way since I was in China. It’s great to see the game being spread across the globe.
I truly believe that within the next 10 years a great player development system will exist in China. They are strong people, and as long as they keep playing games, and keep the youth involved, it is only a matter of time.
I’m looking forward to seeing them play in the 2008 Olympics, as well as the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
In 1968, I was the manager of the Ogden Dodgers in the Pioneer League. I remember receiving the great news that my good friend, Vince Piazza, and his wife, had just had another baby boy, Michael. Vince is like a brother to me, so when his family celebrated, so did mine.
As Godfather to Michael’s brother, I treated him like he was another one of my godsons.
I used to bounce him on my knee when he was a baby.
From the time he was 10 years old to the time he went away to play baseball at the University of Miami, he would be my bat boy when we would play the Phillies.
I got him into Miami, but as a freshman he didn’t play much and wanted to go somewhere that he would play every day. I called my good friend and fellow coach Demi Mainieri, who at the time was the head coach at Mimi Dade College. I asked Demi if I sent Michael to his college, would he play every day. Demi agreed that he would, so Michael transferred. I was happy to help him go somewhere that he could develop his skills.
In June of 1988, as we were making our playoff push, I got the Dodgers to draft Michael. We drafted him in the 62nd round, which meant there were 1,026 players taken ahead of him.
After being drafted, Michael didn’t hear anything from the Dodgers, and Vince called me to see what was going on. I had him fly Michael out to LA to work out for our scouts.
After putting on a hitting display, they wanted to get his schedule and go see him play.
“You want to go see a kid play who you drafted in the 62nd round?”
“Would you sign him if he was a short stop?” I asked.
“Well would you sign him if he was a catcher?”
“Sure, but he’s a first baseman.”
“Sign him,” I told them. “He is now a catcher.”
They signed Michael, and we immediately sent him to Campo Las Palmas, our baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Ralph Avila, who founded and ran Campo, took him under his wing. Michael was the first American player to go to the DR and live and workout there.
He didn’t know a word of Spanish, and the players he lived and worked with didn’t know a word of English. But they had the common goal of making it to Dodger Stadium.
He would work out all day at the academy, and at night he would go warm up pitchers for the Licey club.
He would take hours and hours and hours of batting practice.
Through endless hours of hard work and determination, Michael made it off the island, all the way to Los Angeles. And when he did he made an immediate impact.
He never stopped believing in himself, and never lost sight of his goal.
Now he is calling it a career and hanging them up. There’s a locker in Cooperstown waiting for him. He has more career home runs than any catcher in the history of baseball.
I was proud of him when he was my bat boy. I was proud of him when he played college baseball. I was proud of him when he was drafted. I was proud of him when he went to the Dominican. I was proud of him when he became a Dodger. I was proud of him when he won the Rookie of the Year. I was proud to see him play in the World Series. I was proud when he became the all-time leading catcher in home runs and that he finished with a batting average over .300. I was proud to see him get married and have a daughter. I am proud that he was a 12-time All-Star, and I am proud to say that one day he will be in the Hall of Fame.
But what I am most proud of is his heart, and his determination. What he has accomplished is the perfect example of what someone can attain if they believe in themselves.
I love you, Michael.
Last night I had the privilege and honor to address the U.S. Water Polo team. I don’t know what’s harder, hitting a baseball or doing egg-beaters under water, but I do know that if I had players who looked like the water polo players I spoke to, we would have won more than two World Series. I just can’t picture guys like Billy Buckner or Reggie Smith wearing Speedo’s.
We met in Agoura Hills after their practice, and Coach Schroeder was kind enough to have his players assembled, and attentive. They had just finished practice, and if these guys are like any of my players, I’m surprised none of them were napping.
Before I spoke to the players, Coach Schroeder, who is a three-time Olympian himself, let me know that they needed help with their patriotism. I love telling my Olympic story because there’s nothing better than the feeling you get when you do something great for your country.
When we won the Gold Medal in the 2000 Olympics, I told everyone that this was bigger than the World Series, and everyone thought I was crazy. I said that when the Dodgers win the World Series the Dodger fans are happy, but the Giants fans and the Yankees fans aren’t. But when you win the Gold Medal, all of America is happy.
When we won the Gold and defeated the Cubans, who had never lost an international tournament, I hollered in Spanish as they left the field, “Go back to Cuba! Castro will have you all cutting sugar cane by the end of the week!”
So I started by telling them about how proud I was to manage the Olympic team, and what a privilege it was to represent the greatest country in the world.
I also told them that in order for them to win they have to believe in themselves. Self confidence is the first step towards success, and if they think they are the number one team, they’ll practice like the number one team. And if they practice like the number one team, they’ll play like the number one team. And if they play like the number one team, that’s exactly where they’ll finish.
I think I was yelling so loud that people in Santa Barbara heard me.
And I finished by telling them that over the course of the year I’ll probably talk to about one million people, and if they don’t win I’m going to tell those million people how lousy they are!
All kidding aside, I am going to be tracking their progress and pulling for them to win. Countries from Eastern Europe are the best in the world in water polo, but as I’ve said many, many times, it’s not always the fastest man who wins the race, or the strongest man who wins the fight, but it’s the one who wants it more than the other guy.
How bad do they want it?
And they are the only ones who can answer that question.