VERO BEACH, Fla. – Tommy Lasorda awoke Wednesday morning in the Dodgertown room he's occupied for going on 30 springs.
He had breakfast in the same cafeteria, at the same round table with the "Reserved for Tommy Lasorda" placard in the middle, this morning joined by three Los Angeles Dodgers officials.
He umpired a few innings on a minor-league diamond, part arbiter, part instructor, part bluster.
"It was," he said, "constructive."
Just before 11 a.m., he steered his golf cart past the practice fields, where Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent were taking some of the early swings of spring. He stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures, playing it gruff, but he couldn't stop a subtle grin when he'd harangued a teenager into a "Please, Mr. Lasorda? I said, 'Puh-leeze.' "
Arriving at charming Holman Stadium for an intrasquad game, he chose a flip-down chair in a shady spot seven rows behind home plate.
Dressed in a Dodgers windbreaker, navy blue sweatpants and new white sneakers, Lasorda dozed occasionally, but generally filled the time between pitches with observations shot from the right corner of his mouth.
"That's not a strike," he'd say. "Was that a strike? That's not a strike."
"This kid can hit," he'd say. "Watch this kid hit."
"You can't hit that pitch," he'd say. "That pitch is impossible to hit if it has any mustard on it."
Tommy Lasorda will be 80 in September. On Wednesday he looked every hour of it.
His comfortable routine was knocked cockeye days before.
"Secrets of a Hollywood SuperMadam," a tell-all book by Hollywood madam Jody "Babydol" Gibson that will be released Thursday, claims that Lasorda frequented her call-girl service, the reports of which brought from Lasorda a denial and a promise to sue. The book's lurid excerpts have since ratcheted Internet voyeurs to DEFCON 2. But Lasorda shook his head and said further dialogue would serve only to sell more books and perpetuate the story, the thought of which reddened his face and tightened his lips.
He said he'd talked to his wife and daughter about it. A Dodgers player actually ventured the first-known public joke, saying he couldn't risk his own reputation by hanging around with him. Lasorda must not have killed him, because the player was seen later in the afternoon, but the stab at humor elicited a full-throated defense of himself in the Dodgers clubhouse before reporters were allowed inside.
Later, a 15-minute conversation about the book, the allegations, his reputation, his state of mind and what he'd do next were off the record.
I don't think he'd mind, however, if I reported his last words before we shook hands and parted.
"It'll be all right," he said.
Owners Frank and Jamie McCourt were said to be not terribly pleased when ace Derek Lowe's marital issues became public last season. And Lowe was winning them baseball games.
When Lasorda, the special adviser to the Dodgers chairman – that's Frank McCourt – is accused of embarrassing and illegal dalliances and then run through the 24-hour news wringer, it's at least uncomfortable and worth a meeting or two, and perhaps a larger issue.
In the past year alone, Lasorda the pitchman and ambassador has stood out in front of the Dodgers, the World Baseball Classic and baseball's postseason. He lost a bet with a Los Angeles Times columnist and paid up with a day as Santa Claus at a children's hospital. He showed up in camp and put on his uniform and returned to his routine, only to find the controversy of the day had found him, and might not let go for a while.
So, the leg that's been sore for too long has been a little sorer. His gait seems a little slower, his temper a little quicker. His eyes seem to have been set a little deeper.
The last time he'd looked like this, he'd criticized Barry Bonds to a reporter and the article ran the next day, when the San Francisco Giants celebrated Willie Mays' birthday with a party at AT&T Park. A disconsolate Lasorda, upset with the writer and the story, returned to his hotel before the ceremony. That, however, had passed by the next morning.
Suddenly he's an old man paying for his transgressions, or paying for his high profile – or one of the two – and it's sad.
He is what he is, or at least what he was: a Dodgers icon and a baseball legend who's done things his way for so long he wouldn't recognize any other way. He's a man who likes being seen, who breathes in the celebrity of being Hollywood's manager, and now he's unhappy and lawyered up and reticent to talk, silenced by Hollywood's SuperMadam.
And, so, with no alternative, he holds to the familiar habits of spring, clutches to something normal. He talks baseball. He watches baseball. He closes his eyes. And then he starts over again, all of it reserved for Tommy Lasorda.
- Tommy Lasorda