Two or three representatives of each of the 30 MLB teams were in New Jersey on Monday night to participate in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Earlier in the day, most were at ther MLB headquarters in Manhattan for the draft luncheon.
The most distinguished attendee was Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers. The 87 year-old was also the most noticed individual the luncheon. Many asked to pose for a photo with him and/or to receive an autograph. The Hall of fame manager graciously complied with all requests.
While sitting at a table with six others, Lasorda eagerly answered questions and told interesting, informative and humorous stories of his experiences from his 65 years in baseball.
Asked about his favorite players when he was a youngster, Lasorda replied, “Babe Ruth, Hank Greenberg, Jimmy Foxx and bob Feller. Those were players.”
The former Dodger hurler related opinions of some of his teammates from more than 60 years ago, “Sandy Koufax-They sent me down to the minors because they had to keep him. He was wild. He once walked eight players in one inning. Carl Erskine-That was a pitcher. Gil Hodges-I don’t know why he isn’t in the HOF. He was a great hitter and a great fielder. I could understand if he was a SOB, but he was as nice as could be. Jackie Robinson-He was tough. He played to win. When he was traded to the Giants, he quit rather than play with them. We had a lot of fights with therm.”
The 20 year manager of the Dodgers unhesitatingly answered “Ralph Houk” when asked who was the best manager Lasorda played for. “He was the nicest guy put on this earth. He was a players’ manager. He treated everyone as he would want them to treat him. He was also a war hero [World War II] who went from private to major.’
He then related a story of when he played on Denver, a Yankees farm club managed by Houk. Houk approached him after Lasorda was knocked out of a game in which he pitched very poorly and was down because he felt responsible for his team’s loss. Houk told the hurler he had a very nice car. He then remarked about what a nice wife Lasorda had and how much Houk’s wife Bette thought of her. Then, he praised Lasorda’s young daughter. He closed by saying, “Never hold your head down. You have a lot to be happy for.”
He concluded the story of Houk by saying, “If I could have been like any manager, that’s who I would choose. I think I was like that.”
One of the men at the table asked Lasorda’s opinion regarding the pitch count and current manner of handling pitchers, “That’s horse….! How can someone else know if a pitcher can’t pitch any longer? He then told a story of his experiences in the minors, “I pitched a 15 inning game, struck out 25 batters and won the game with a hit in the 15th. Four days later, I struck out 15 and four days afterwards, I struck out 13. I struck out 53 in three straight games.”
The stories only ended when the guests seated at that table, the last to remain in the room, were asked to leave. Having the experience of listening to a Hall of Famer with 65 years of experiences with the Dodgers, who treated strangers as if they were lifelong friends, was an unforgettable and very favorable experience.