Charitable Lasorda has never put his generosity on a diet

John Steadman

November 01, 1991|By John Steadman

Measure Thomas Charles Lasorda on the goodness of the man. He has been one of the most successful of contemporary baseball managers but, again, that's not important. He has gone through life in the style of a modern Johnny Appleseed, spreading good will and contributing to the cause of humanity in ways this world will not always know about.

He's an entertainer, a raconteur and his wife of 41 years facetiously says he loves the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball more than he does her. "Yes," he answers with a wink, "but I love you more than football or basketball."

Lasorda is a sensitive man, grateful for the attention he receives and gives back in abundance the good things that have come to him. It was three years ago at the Vero Beach (Fla.) training camp of the Dodgers that he promised to lose weight. Players Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser were skeptical but agreed to each bet him $10,000 he couldn't lose 28 pounds by the All-Star Game, which was five months away.

He accepted the challenge and Hershiser, as an afterthought to enhance Lasorda's chances, took his figure to $20,000. So $30,000 was on the line. A friend from Nashville, one John Hobbs, owner of a motel and night club, asked him what he was going to do with the prize -- providing he won the wager? "Give it to some charity," he answered with almost automatic reaction.

Then Hobbs told him about the Sisters of Mercy in Nashville. They were living in a building that was about to be condemned. Their outlook was bleak. Naturally, they were saying their prayers, as nuns always do, that some bountiful assistance, if it could be God's will, might ease the dilemma.

Tommy Lasorda provided the answer. He didn't know them personally but promised to help. The story got attention. A manager of a baseball team in Los Angeles trying to take off weight in a bid to assist nuns in duress in Nashville. Danny Abraham, chairman of the board of Slim Fast Foods Inc., was intrigued to read about what Lasorda was attempting to do.

He made a sizable offer to Lasorda and agreed he would make a donation to the sisters. So Lasorda liked what Abraham outlined, agreed to make commercials and, to prove he believed in what he was promoting, used Slim Fast, which enabled him to shed the pounds. At the All-Star Game deadline he was a svelte 182.

Slim Fast got an avalanche of exposure, considering what Lasorda was attempting to do in the interest of charity, and numerous donations came to support the cause of the sisters. The cast of the Hee-Haw variety show, along with top names from Hollywood, came to the Grand Ole Opry House for a volunteer benefit. Again, in behalf of the Lasorda effort.

Now 2 1/2 years have gone by. And yesterday at Pennington Bend, Tenn., outside Nashville, the sisters moved into new facilities, costing an estimated $2 million. There are 48 rooms, guest quarters, a hospital ward and a chapel on the property. Lasorda and Hobbs were there for the ceremonies.

"It's the least we could do," said Tommy. "I don't know how much we raised. You don't stop to count for something like this. The nuns are doing the work of God. That's important. They are mainly concerned with teaching literacy to men, women and youngsters who can't read or write. True happiness comes when you make others happy. I might have been one of the leadoff men, but there were others in the lineup who helped make this happen."

We once saw Lasorda go to a middle-aged man in a wheelchair at Shea Stadium and offered an unsolicited pep talk. He wasn't asked to do it. Merely the reaction of a man of decency trying to lift the spirits of one less fortunate than himself. Tommy, no doubt, can get carried away at times with excessive pronouncements, such as this spring when he talked about what wouldhave happened if Darryl Strawberry had to play centerfield.

"I'm telling you the Dodgers were prepared to give Darryl a course in how to handle centerfield that would have been the total equivalent of four years at Yale." Only Lasorda could offer such an exaggerated correlation.

Helping the Sisters of Mercy wasn't exclusively a Lasorda production, but he was out front leading the parade. "We had help from men and women of all faiths, Protestants, Jewish, Catholic and others," said Hobbs. "Tommy had to fly out of Nashville for Puerto Rico after the dedication. He observed the nuns, on their great day in the new facility, having cold cuts for lunch. He wrote a check and asked me to see they got 15 turkeys."

Tommy Lasorda has a loyalty to old friends, a characteristic that is admirable, plus a willingness to reach back and give the maximum. There's no ulterior motive. Just a good man trying when he can to be his brothers (in this case, his sisters) keeper.

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