Tommy Lasorda is a company man and proud of it, regardless of
what you might think when he propounds his creed of “the
great Dodger in the sky” or bleeding “Dodger
blue.” The long-time icon has lived in a world that seems
long-forgotten: he believes in loyalty, and woe betide anyone who
doesn’t return the sentiment.
In I LIVE FOR THIS!, LA Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke
provides an unusual perspective from most sports biographies. While
the character of his subject is never in question --- Lasorda is
depicted almost as a national treasure, charitable to an almost
absurd degree --- he is not flawless. Lasorda is like the family
patriarch who has become outmoded in his role as the big cheese; he
no longer wields the power, but acts as tribute should still be
paid to him (not unlike King Lear). He is vain, selfish, an
attention hog, loves being in the company of other celebrities and
is convinced that his 50-plus years with the organization has
earned him a large measure of respect and deference. He is insulted
when he isn’t consulted on front office plans, long after he
stepped down as field manager and later general manager.
Lasorda’s button-holing of young players who do not
understand or care about his place in “Dodgerdom” is
almost pathetic as he seeks to remain in the limelight, or at least
on the radar. He believes, like the wife of Willy Loman, that
attention must be paid. Needless to say, not everyone involved with
the team over the years has agreed.
At the same time, his contributions within and outside the game is
undeniable. A staunch family man, he is recognized wherever the
game is played, from the Olympics to Little League.
Plaschke jumps back and forth between the Lasorda trying to make a
name for himself (and coming up short) as a player and his attempts
to maintain that baseball connection into the 21st century; this
can be a bit jarring.
What makes I LIVE FOR THIS! interesting is not that Plaschke has
written it; sportswriters have been making an extra buck publishing
inside dope or ghosting autobiographies for a hundred years.
Rather, it is that Lasorda himself, by virtue of his
“co-authorship” --- whatever that entailed --- signed
off on a book that is at times quite unflattering.
This is a challenging book; there’s no simple way to
categorize it. Whether you like Lasorda or not, whether you think
he’s an out-of-touch blowhard or a passionate man with a
heart of gold, he is, in a sense, one of baseball’s
“greatest generation.” Plaschke calls him the last
“true believer” in the national pastime, which has lost
ground over the past few decades for any number of reasons. If that
turns out to be accurate, it’s a sad omen for all us
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 22, 2011