Nice Guys Finish First
Tommy Lasorda was helping raise money for sick kids in Delaware, one of which was my 6 yr-old niece Megan.
I’d sure like to be known as an ambassador someday…I met Tommy Lasorda at an American Diabetes Association (ADA) dinner in ‘98 where he was helping raise money for sick kids in Delaware, one of which was my 6 yr-old
niece Megan, who was learning to live with Type-1 Diabetes. That night was the first time I ever heard him referred to as the Ambassador of Baseball, and it's because he’s always been positive and encouraging to everyone, whether they can swing a bat or not. I’m also pretty sure the man who really loved kids wrote a personal check for a few $1000's that night.
23 years later in 2021 at the age of 93, he was still known as the Ambassador, and the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Just think - all of those accolades for a lefty Italian pitcher from Norristown, PA with a lifetime 0-4 record… Madonna mia! And 3 World Series rings and Olympic Gold – well, read on…
was born 6 years before my own dad – 1927, then signed with the Phillies in ‘45 as a lefty pitcher, served 2 years in the US Army right after WWII, & then on to Brooklyn by ’49. He only played a couple of years and was 0-4 in the major leagues, but really loved to play winter ball in sunny Cuba with both the talented Cuban teams & also the Negro league players, for what proved to be a beautiful blend of integrated baseball for decades.
Escaping the cold Brooklyn winters, he loved traveling down to play for legendary Almendares (a city suburb) who had a legendary rivalry with nearby Havana.
Now, it’s only an urban legend that he faced Fidel Castro when they played Havana – but it really is true that Fidel as a youngster had immense athletic ability and a dream to play major league ball; Castro had wild talent they say, with a big league curveball that could break your heart. But alas with a so-so fastball and only a decent slider, the lanky right-handed future Communist dictator had just 1 good pitch…que lastima, right?
Tommy played in Cuba from 1950-52 and then again from 1958-59... he was in-country on New Year’s Eve 1959, an infamous night made famous in the Godfather 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjUOBVAbGhQ
when Michael Corleone tells Fredo, “I know it was you, you broke my heart...” & when the communists under Fidel Castro overthrew the government to take over. The story goes that amidst all the chaos and killing, Tommy was “sent for” by two of Fidel’s men to bring him to Castro’s hotel. Tommy hadn’t really learned much Spanish yet, and the bodyguards may not have explained the reason for the summons anyway… but sure enough when Tommy arrived, Fidel was waiting for him with a big smile and a cigar in his hand - and wanted to talk baseball!
In 1999, the year after I met Tommy, the book Castro’s Curveball came out,
and I was happy to read the author's recounts of some of Lasorda stories from the 50’s. Too bad, Tommy had thought, that things would change shortly in Cuba by 1960 – peacefully integrated baseball which had seen Cuban, American white and Negro League players all covering the bases in harmony for decades, was now nixed in favor of the communist all-Cuban amateur league.
The Dodger connection:
Tommy coached 2 World Series Championships for the LA Dodgers & technically also has a 3rd ring - earning the distinction of being the only player in baseball history to have won a World Series ring in both Dodger cities, the first in Brooklyn in 1955 on the legendary
team of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, plus a young number #27 Tommy who did not get to pitch an inning in the Series.
While we’re talking technicalities, Tommy also won Olympic gold without actually receiving a medal. The rule is... coaches in the Olympics are not awarded medals, even though the sport of baseball should clearly call for it. His stewardship of the 2000 team in Sydney, Australia was a masterpiece – he was only given 10 days before the opening ceremony to assemble a team of career minor leaguers, Major League castoffs, and a few (unknown up to that point) rising stars. Good hearted Tommy didn’t fight it - in fact he said, “I loved the moment when the US beat Cuba,” of all teams, and then he cried during the Star Spangled Banner on national TV. “I got my gold medal when they played the National Anthem.”
Tommy came from a big Italian family in Norristown, Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes from my house, and was originally from Abruzzo, Italy. Mine too. His 2 favorite ballclubs were the Dodgers and Phillies - the same as my Italian mom.
The Ambassador of Baseball was a lover of positivity, baseball, travel, charity work, & Italian food -
and I was lucky enough to meet him and spend a couple of innings together.
Captain Joe Sacchetti is a US Army Ranger-qualified Paratrooper who served 2 tours in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star during Operation Desert Storm. An elite athlete, 2-time Track All-American and former 82nd Airborne Welterweight Boxing Champ,
Joe has just written a business bestseller on Amazon Kindle called:
Guts, Smarts & Love: Live Your Life the Army Ranger Way
It is due out in paperback this March '21.