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FIRST PERSON

He bleeds red, white and blue

AT 50 / One in a series marking 50 years of the Dodgers in L.A.

August 22, 2008|Tom Lasorda | Special to The Times

The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney was the biggest thing I was ever involved with.

I wanted to be the manager of Team USA, and I'll tell you why. Everybody said you can't beat the Cubans. Cuba always fielded teams with the best baseball players from that country. We always use players from the low minor leagues because the Olympics are played in the middle of baseball season so the big leaguers can't participate.

So I wanted to be the manager because I believed that the United States could beat Cuba.

After I was named manager, I met the team for the first time in San Diego. I had never seen the players. I did not know them. The only guy I was familiar with was Pat Borders, who played for Toronto, but the other 24 guys were all from the low minors. When Team USA was formed, major league general managers were expanding their rosters to 40 players and calling up their best minor leaguers for the playoff push, so many GMs would not give us their best players.

I told my wife that 25 years later there would be a quiz; who's the only man to help his country win a medal and win a World Series? That's going to be me.

"You don't even know who the players are," she said.

"I don't have to know who they are," I answered. "Just that they're alive. That's all I care about!"

The day before we were to leave for Australia I sat my team down for a talk.

"I don't know who you are. I don't know where you come from. I don't know if you're married or single. I don't know if you're good, mediocre or bad. But I'm going to tell you something right now; when this thing is all over, the whole world is going to know who you are. You know why? Because you are going to bring that gold medal to the United States, where it belongs in baseball!

"You do not represent your family. You do not represent the school you went to, or your hometown, or the organization that signed you. You now represent the United States of America, and you're not going to do a damn thing to embarrass yourself, or our country. All you are going to do is win. You know why you're going to win? Because baseball is America's game. It doesn't belong to the Cubans, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Koreans. It's our game, and we're not going to let those donkeys beat us!"

And by golly, those youngsters played their hearts out.

We beat the Cubans, 4-0, to win the gold medal. It was the first time that Team USA has won the gold, and we haven't won it since.

They say that coaches don't get medals in the Olympics, which is true. A lot of people felt sorry for me because I didn't get a medal, but I tell them that I got my medal when I saw them put the gold around my players' necks. I got my medal when I saw them raise the American flag. I got my medal when they played our national anthem.

I cried. I cried because I was so happy because I did something for my country.

That was my biggest thrill. Winning that gold was bigger than my 50-plus years with the Dodgers. It was bigger than Major League Baseball. It was bigger than winning two World Series. People thought I was crazy for saying that, but I told them that when the Dodgers win, the Dodgers fans are happy but the Giants fans and the Padres fans aren't. But when you win a gold medal, all of America is happy.

This is where the gold medal in baseball belongs. Our theme was: We did not come 5,000 miles to lose.

And how sweet it was; the fruits of victory.

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