Tommy Lasorda poses in front of a graphic piece of art created by Michael Guccione, which will be on display at the “Lasordapalooza” exhibit at the Pomona Library through May 15.
In Arizona a few weeks ago for spring training, working on a couple stories, I ran into Tommy Lasorda at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch facility.
That’s not really hard to do. He’s pretty much everywhere, being shuttled around in a golf cart, stopping where ever he’s asked to talk to fans, sponsors, players, more fans …
Out of the blue, I made a request in the middle of the conversation: Could I get my picture with you? Of course, he obliged. Here’s the result:
That’s not very professional of me. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever done it. Something just happened in the moment — a casual setting of spring training, someone nearby with a camera. To me, it was the as if I’d run into the Famous Chicken, or the Philly Phanatic, or Pee-wee Herman, or the guy who drives the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
Lasorda is the Ronald McDonald of baseball. A people-pleasing person, as accomodating as putting two quarters and a bright copper penny into one of those squishing machines and having a souvenir come clinking down at the bottom.
When The Baseball Reliquary (linked here) announced it would present what it has called “Lasordapalooza,” an exhibition “surveying the life and times” of Tommy Lasorda, opening Tuesday and running through May 28 at the Pomona Public Library, I flashed back to that day a couple of weeks ago to think about the stuff we discussed.
Ninety-nine percent of it, I’d heard before. But I listened again anyway. It was the art of the presentation. He talked about, in no particular order, the fact he was in nearly two dozen Hall of Fames, had his portrait at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., owned one suit when he was a kid that was a hand-me-down from his older brother who only wore it to Sunday church …
He talked about the new bottles of wine someone has been marketing with his name on them that are now for sale. But he can’t drink them, he admits, because he’s taking too many medications for his heart and blood pressure.
It’s the stuff we’ve heard year after year after year. Somehow, it never gets old.
But Lasorda, on that day, looked old.
The calendar says he’ll be 83 this September. A man who’s always tireless on that day seemed tired. He spoke softly. But he never stopped talking. That would be out of character.
Eventually, a young girl, maybe 4, with a small dog was brought over to him, along with her family. She said she named the dog “Tommy Lasorda.” He got a kick out of it, and lit up. Lasorda posed for all kinds of pictures — he, like a trained dog, knew the routine.
This was Good Tommy.
Somewhere, far away, was Bad Tommy. The one you find cursing, getting his name somehow tied into a book about a hooker’s confessions. Competitive Tommy. Abrasive Tommy.
It goes back to a story the Daily News’ Kevin Modesti did on Lasorda in 1997 with the headline “Lights, camera, action: Tommy Lasorda knows when to turn it on” (linked here), just before his Hall of Fame induction. He’d been asked to participate in a KTLA-Channel 5 contest which had him taken by limo to a viewers’ home. Lasorda got their early — and groused about it the whole time.
When the camera went on, he was perfect.
“Lasorda always has presented himself to the public as Santa Claus in blue, but can anybody be that lovable 24 hours a day?” Modesti wrote. “Well, no.”
In a way, I’m not so crazy that the Reliquary display is happening, calling it a “candid look” at his career — from his World Series championships, to his estrangement from his gay son. From his Hall of Fame credentials to his penchant for self-promotion.
They’re pulling the curtain back. It’ll make you smile; it’ll make you cringe.
In this exhibit, the artwork ranges from paintings and a stained-glass pieces to digital works and a hand-painted baseball. The artists — Mary Cannon, Michael Guccione, Greg Jezewski, Moe Mockster, Julian Pollack, Ben Sakoguchi and David Shorey — have unique perspectives they can express with their medium. Pictures by photojournalist Fred Zermeno will also be on display — in public for the first time.
But then, there are two essays, written by fans and critics of his. They were winners of a literary contest put on by The Baseball Reliquary in association with this “Lasordapalooza” display.
Cynthia Adam Prochaska wrote about how her mother’s signed picture of Lasorda that’s up on the wall at her home — she got it as a result of her complaining to Lasorda that she didn’t want to have to buy two jars of his pasta sauce just to receive the photo, as was required for customers to do.
“In the inscription Tommy Lasorda gets the last word, ” Procheska wrote. “Never one to let anyone defy him, he wrote, ‘Rosemary, Try the sauce.’ I smile every time I see it, thinking that Tommy Lasorda, even in his picture, is trying to get his way. He never backs down, Tommy Lasorda, and that tenacious bullying is what he does best. Whether with the Dodgers or an elderly lady in her quiet suburban home, Tommy always has his say. For that, I have to love him.”
Then Fred Glienna has a piece entitled “Why I Love AND Hate Tommy Lasorda.” He starts it off:
“I love Tommy Lasorda because both his infectious enthusiasm for baseball and his ability to motivate players are irresistible. I hate Tommy Lasorda because he’s a hypocritical blowhard, as anyone who has heard uncut tapes of his tirades can attest.”
At Tuesday’s Dodgers home opener, there was a moment between innings when Lasorda, sitting in his seat near the Dodger dugout, got up on the Jumbotron. Before his appearance, there was video displayed of him, so he knew this was coming. He waited until the camera was on him, then stood up and waived to the crowd. The applause had increased in volume second by second.
Againk this is what the Human Dodger Mascot was supposed to do. He’s the team’s ambassador and, aside from Vin Scully, it’s greatest asset in the public. Maybe under his breath he was cursing that he had to do this, but it didn’t show.
Ever the showman until the day he’s a no-show.
More details on “Lasordapalooza”:
== The library hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
== On Saturday, May 15, the Baseball Reliquary will present a special “Tommy Lasorda Day” program at the Pomona Public Library from 2-to-4 p.m. Festivities will include a Tommy Lasorda Look-Alike Contest, open to both men and women. Further details on this free event will be forthcoming.
== “Lasordapalooza” is supported, in part, by a grant from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.