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Baseball, through Tommy’s eyes

La Cañada resident Bill Plaschke entertains locals with stories of Tommy Lasorda from “I Live For This.”

November 15, 2007|By Timithie Gould

Sportswriter Bill Plaschke was sitting in Tommy Lasorda’s office watching the baseball legend eat a piece of pizza.

Have one, Tommy offered. No, thanks, Bill said. But it wasn’t the answer Tommy was looking for.

If you eat a piece of pizza with me, I’ll give you a scoop for a story, Tommy insisted. Bill didn’t need any more convincing, so he settled in with a cheesy slice and listened as Tommy started talking about his childhood.

“That was what sparked my idea for the book,” Plaschke told a group of about 20 fans and readers at Flintridge Bookstore last week when he held a signing for his new book, “I Live For This: Baseball’s Last True Believer.”

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Plaschke, a longtime writer for the Los Angeles Times sports section and resident of La Cañada, teamed up with Lasorda to write the biography of one of the Dodgers’ most colorful characters.

“The book is about Tommy and how people live through baseball,” Plaschke said. “Tommy is baseball how it used to be, he’s one of the greats.”

Plaschke entertained the audience with memories of working with Lasorda for the book and the absurd and humorous behavior Lasorda often displayed, including a story about his managing performance of the United States Olympic baseball team in the 2000 Sydney Games.

“He was crying like a baby at the awards ceremony,” Plaschke recalled. “But not because they had just beat Cuba for the gold. It was because he realized the managers don’t get medals!”

Known for his sports columns and human interest stories, Plaschke spent several years interviewing, researching, and spending time with Lasorda for the book. He learned about Lasorda’s promise to his wife to never move (the couple still lives in Long Beach), his fear of being alone (“We were in a hotel suit and I had to sit and talk to Tommy until he fell asleep”) and his ineptitude with technology.

“He was always available to me,” Plaschke said. “But a lot of times when I called you would just hear ‘hello, hello’ because he had no idea how to answer his cellphone.”

One subject Plaschke would liked to have heard about was the relationship between Lasorda and his son, Tom Jr., known as “Sparky” to his family, who died of complications of AIDS in 1991. At the time, Lasorda refused to acknowledge his son’s lifestyle and cause of death. Even years later he was unwilling to talk about the subject.

“He insisted it was cancer,” Plaschke said.

The book tells of Lasorda’s complicated nature and how he viewed the world through the lens of America’s greatest pastime.

“Tommy used to say he wanted to die on the bench, in uniform,” Plaschke said. “He said it was the most noble way to die.”

After hearing the stories of Lasorda and about Plaschke’s own sportswriting career, fans lined up to have the author sign their copies of “I Live For This.”

Flintridge Bookstore manager Sandy Willardson thanked Plaschke for his appearance as he chatted with students, parents and other locals.


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