(East Los Angeles, CA) January 25, 2021 (From The Editor’s Desk]: To the thousands and thousands of Tommy Lasorda fans and admirers, the ending of the day, January 7, 2021, officially marked the last day that he spent here on this good earth with us. Two days after being released from the hospital, he succumbed to a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest late that Thursday night, at his home in Fullerton, CA. Several tributes have already taken place here in the city, and the most recent was a special Memorial to Tommy that was held at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, January 19th. His stadium farewell was limited to invitations for Family and Friends only. A special group of Dodgers, past and present, along with Manager Dave Roberts, who all wore white #2 Lasorda jerseys, were in attendance. Tommy, a native son of Norristown, PA. was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, CA. He is survived by his wife, Jo, daughter, Laura, and granddaughter, Emily Tess.
This sadly marked the second consecutive year that a Pro Legend of L.A. sports has passed away in January. And be very aware that on Tuesday, the first City of Los Angeles and Beyond memorialization will be marked for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, for what occurred on that fateful date of last year, Sunday, January 26, 2020. We added this comparison based on the wonderful relationship that our two Legends shared with each other…Tommy being an avid L.A. Lakers fan, and vice versa, Kobe being a long-time and devoted L.A. Dodgers fan, who spent time seated next to Tommy during his selected Dodgers home games.
(Special Thanks To): David Thompson, Contributor for Greenville, So. Carolina portion.
(Photo Gallery Credits): Jon SooHoo, Los Angeles Dodgers; Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images; L.A. Times Sports; Alfred Perez, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions, LLC; The Hollenbeck Youth Center; & David Thompson, Contributor & Friend of the Lasorda’s.
In our Feature story, we focus on Tommy’s tremendous support and acknowledgement for Dodgers fans who represent our great Chicano, Mexican-American, Mexicano, and Latino communities from East Los Angeles and Beyond. Wherever you find large communities of our “gente,” there will always be Dodgers fans. Tommy also was greatly noted for his willingness to conduct Boys and Girls youth outreach events (i.e. training and instructional clinics, Dodgers merchandise giveaways, etc.). He also represented the Dodgers organization in helping community-based youth agencies, like the Hollenbeck Youth Center, based in Boyle Heights, to do major fundraising events, vis-a-vis, their “Annual Salute To The Dodgers.” In the 1970s, the Dodgers and their owners, the Walter O’Malley family, always provided its players and coaches “time-off” to attend this annual luncheon event held at the Bonaventure Hotel, which provided hundreds of Hollenbeck Youth Center kids an opportunity to actually “meet and greet” their Dodgers baseball heroes, and Tommy, for that one special day of the year.
Over the years, the Dodgers and Tommy Lasorda, along with their Mexican League scout and Boyle Heights native, Mike Brito, were given much credit for the discovery and further development of “El Toro,” the affectionate nickname given to #34/Fernando Valenzuela. Under Tommy’s tutelage, they became fast, and very good “amigos.” The team’s Chicano and Latino rock-solid fanbase to this day comes from that most unique era of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) and the Dodgers most historic, player-associated phenomenon, forever known as “Fernando Mania.”
And now another generation of Dodgers fans, that includes all ages, genders, and nationalities, continues to see their rise in numbers that literally assures the L.A. Dodgers of easily, and annually attracting over 3 million fans to their games at Dodger Stadium per season. Deeply mixed into that woven tapestry, you will no doubt find the Dodgers‘ Ambassador of Good and Dodger Blue, the famous #2, Mr. Tommy Lasorda, always doing outreach work as he fervently and passionately spoke about the memorable Dodgers baseball stories that captivated his beloved audiences to no end. In 1997, and in a fitting tribute to Tommy, his #2 team uniform was retired.
In turning to his team activities one final time, we are so glad that in Tommy’s case, the 93 year-young Dodgers hero for the ages, accomplished the following milestones in his long Dodger career: (1) the former team Manager for 20 years, (1976-1996); (2) 2 x National League Manager of the Year, (1983 & 1988); (3) 2 x World Series Championship Manager, (1981 & 1988); (4) Gold Medal, Sydney Olympic Games, Team Manager (2000); and, (5) inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, (1997). These accomplishments all withstood the test of time and Tommy managed to witness, per his one last “Dodgers Blue” wish, yet another World Series Championship. And alas, that wish was granted on October 27, 2020 when the Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in six games.
One other aspect of Tommy’s life that many may not know well, is how Tommy met his wife, Joanne Miller, who affectionately became known as “Jo.” A very near and dear friend of mine, Dave Thompson, an American Basketball Association (ABA) Professional Basketball official from Kansas City, MO, told me an amazing story that was handed down to him by his 95 year-old mom, still present with us, of how Tommy met his future wife in a small town located in the state of South Carolina.
The Dodgers drafted Tommy, as a pitcher, from the Philadelphia Phillies, and in 1949 sent him to play in the minor league city of Greenville, South Carolina, and its club called the “Spinners,” who were members of the Textile Mill League. Teams were representative, at that time, of the 13 textile mills surrounding Greenville. Little to say that times in the era were very rough, and the only escape from the rigors of that fatiguing work was recreation, that came in the form of playing baseball in the Textile Mill League. As an aside to this fact, in the baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” lead actor, Kevin Costner, had a scripted line in the movie that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson “wound up playing for some third rate league in the Carolinas.” He was actually talking about the Textile Mill League. Much later the team became known as the Greenville Braves, a part of the Atlanta Braves minor league system.
But back to the romantic story of how they met. Dave’s mother, Nell Adams (maiden name), had worked for a couple of years as a secretary at Sullivan’s Hardware Store and would eventually introduce Jo to Tommy. Sullivan’s was the priority stop by the mill workers who needed to purchase supplies and other items before reporting to work. To make a long story short, the pair began dating and the rest is history. Tommy and Jo were married on April 14, 1950.
Today, the team is known as the Greenville Drive (a Boston Red Sox) affiliate. Outside of their Flour Field‘s right field fence is the team’s “Wall of Fame,“ and hanging among the famous players from the past are plaques and pictures of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and our very own Tommy Lasorda. The Lasordas would often return to visit Jo’s sisters who still lived in Greenville. And with that, we all know the beginning of their long, loving, and blissful story.
We close out our Special Memorial Feature on Tommy with a powerful testimonial from his good friend and local community leader …*Danny Hernández, President, Hollenbeck Police Business Council (HPBC) & Hollenbeck Youth Center (HYC)
“I want to honor a real champion and friend who recently passed away. Tommy Lasorda played a huge role in my own real life and in the life of the Hollenbeck Police Business Council, also known as the Hollenbeck Youth Center. As brokenhearted and hurt in spirit as we may be, his legacy will live on at the Center. At the last Salute to the Dodgers Award Luncheon in 2019, where we honored Mr. Lasorda with our “Lifetime Achievement Award,” now called the “Legacy Award.” Tommy shared a wish with me. He said he hoped that before he left for the ‘Big Blue Heavens’, that he would love to see the Dodgers win another World Series. He said: ‘I want to feel another World Championship in my heart.’ Tommy, your wish came true. And so has ours in meeting you. You have been an amazing friend and truly displayed the heart of a Champion. We will forever be grateful to you and the Los Angeles Dodgers.”
As noted, our story features a large photo gallery and we’ve added our (10) minute video interview with Tommy that took place at the Hollenbeck Youth Center when he was invited as a Special Guest to launch the 2005 “Annual Salute To The Dodgers” fundraiser at the Center. Watch and listen closely as it touches on many topics that were news-making events at that time.