Congratulations to Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and the family of the late Joe Gordon. As you are all inducted today into Cooperstown I hope you enjoy every minute of the experience, and have a chance to reflect on your career achievements in the game we love so much.
My induction was a dream come true. During my 20 years managing the Dodgers I never once thought of being inducted until Peter O’Malley brought it up in conversation during my retirement. Of course I still didn’t believe him until spring training of 1997 when I got a call from Ted Williams. He said, “I thought I was the only guy in Cooperstown who loved you but it turns out everybody loves you.”
When I was a kid I used to actually dream of playing in Yankee Stadium. I could picture all the Yankee greats playing the field behind me. And then all of a sudden my mother would be shaking me telling me it’s time to go to school. The dream was so real. Why didn’t she let me stay asleep? Standing at the podium in Cooperstown making my induction speech I felt like it wouldn’t be long before my mother would be shaking me and telling me it’s time to go to school.
Last Saturday I had the honor of being named Godfather to Jack MacCord. I have been asked to be Godfather to many children, and it is always an honor and privilege to be asked, and to have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the youngster’s life.
The church was beautiful, and everybody was happy to witness young Jack becoming a member of the Christian community.
The Father said a few words and I had to break in and ask him a question that has been on my mind for a long time.
I told Father that I had been raised a Catholic and have attended Catholic church over my 82-year life, but that there was one question I never found an answer for.
“Father,” I said, “Why didn’t the Corinthians ever write back?”
In 1968, the Dodgers had what many people considered one of the best draft classes ever. We had players like Tom Paciorek, Steve Garvey, Bobby Valentine, Billy Buckner and Sandy Vance come into our organization. It was very important to teach these youngsters the Dodger way of playing baseball from the minute they set foot on the field.
That year also marked my fourth year as a minor league manager, and third in Ogden. I was very excited to get these young ballplayers, these future Dodgers in and show them what it would take to make it to the big leagues, what they would have to do to get their mail at Dodger Stadium.
I have said it before, and will say it again; self confidence is the first step towards success. When I got my hands on these guys that is exactly what I tried to instill. You have to remember that most of these your players were right out of high school and away from home for the first time. Plus, they weren’t the best of the best anymore. This wasn’t high school baseball. They would be playing against their real peers now, so I wanted them to be as mentally tough as they were physically.
One day we were witting by the pool and I told Billy Buckner to come over and get a pen and piece of paper. He wanted to know why, and I told him to just do it. I told him he was going to sit down and write a letter that would go like this:
Dear Wes Parker,
You don’t know me, but my name is Billy Buckner and I play for the Ogden Dodgers. I want you to know that I am going to take your job away from you. Tommy Lasorda is my manager, and he said he is a friend of yours, and that you are a great guy, but that I am going to play first base for the Dodgers.
I had Valentine do the same thing, and I had Garvey do the same thing and so on.
Because I wanted them to believe in themselves.
And you know who took Parker’s job at first base?
Valentine eventually made it to the Dodgers, Garvey eventually made it to the Dodgers, and you know, I’m talking about Rookie League level players who were so determined to succeed that they would stop at nothing.
It was a lot of fun, as we worked our tails off. Through endless hours of hard work and determination we won the Pioneer League in 1968, which marked our third Pioneer League championship in a row.
Billy Buckner hit .344, Garvey hit .338 with 20 home runs, Valentine hit .281 with a .460 slugging percentage.
We finished 14 games above .500 with a 39-25 record and took home the league title. The following season most of my players were promoted, and so was I as the Dodgers sent me to manage in Spokane where our triple-A affiliate played.
But I loved my days in Ogden. I am so happy to be back, and also happy that the Dodgers are affiliated here again.
So I say Thank You to all the fans who supported the Ogden Dodgers of the 60’s, and Thank You to all the Ogden fans who support the Raptors now. I hope you all have fun tonight at Lindquist Field, as I am truly humbled to be honored there tonight with the retirement of my jersey.
I am here in Ogden for two reasons: the first is we have our Rookie-Advanced team here so I’m working with the players and coaches. The second is the Ogden Raptors are retiring my jersey, inducting me into the Ogden Professional Baseball Wall of Fame, and the mayor will proclaim July 10 as Tommy Lasorda Day in Ogden.
I managed here for three years (1966-68) and loved it. We worked our tails off, played great baseball and made lifelong friendships and memories.
The people here are so kind, and the ballpark is beautiful. There is a mountain range in the background beyond center field that is breathtaking.
In the eight years I managed in the minor leagues I sent 73 players to the big leagues. While in Ogden I sent 14 players up, nine of which played for the Dodgers.
And we won the Pioneer League championship all three of the years I managed here.
How sweet it is; the fruits of victory.
In tomorrow’s blog I will share a story or two about those days, which I loved.
My father emigrated from Italy and built his life here. He told me four brothers and me that this is the land of opportunity. When he came here he didn’t have anything, but he bought a house and a car, he married a beautiful woman and built a family of five boys. He sat us down at the dinner table one night and said that we may have to go fight for our country, but that we must do it. He said you may even have to give your life for our country, but you must do it.
That patriotism has been with me ever since. I have given motivational addresses at over 40 military bases around the world. I spoke at the Air Force Academy 10 times, Annapolis twice and West Point twice. I stood at the same podium where General Patton made his speeches. I spoke at the National War College where they train Colonels and Generals.
I have had the privilege and honor of meeting seven presidents, have attended state dinners, and even opened the press briefing during the Reagan administration once.
For the son of an Italian immigrant, all of those are touching and special. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished my mother and father could have seen me there.
The highlight of my baseball career came when I managed the 2000 U.S. Olympic baseball team to its first and only Gold Medal. I told people it was bigger than the Dodgers, bigger than the All-Star Game, bigger than the World Series and bigger than Major League Baseball.
People thought I was crazy, but when the Dodgers win the Dodger fans are happy, but the Padre and Giant’s fans aren’t. But when we won that Gold Medal all of America was happy.
After that victory I cried, because I had done something for my country. I served two years in the Army during World War II, and that was a fulfilling experience, but I was so proud of the Olympic team because nobody thought we could win. Scouts from around the game told me they didn’t give me a good team, but all I cared is whether they were alive.
This weekend, while we celebrate the birth of our great nation, we celebrate its history and traditions, but we also celebrate the innovations and future. Our ideals and our way of life make this country great, but more importantly it’s the people who live the ideals, who don’t put an expiration date on their dreams, who work to give a better life to their kids, who do everything they can to uphold the law of the land, who believe in liberty in all its forms and who revel in the freedom we feel is our natural born right.
God bless you.
God bless the men and women who fight for our country.
God Bless America.