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Seems like the sun will never set on Tom Lasorda's empire

December 03, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

The mother-in-law died a few days ago, the funeral in Chicago and lots of snow.

On the way to the cemetery, the hearse got stuck going up a hill, forcing everyone to retreat toward the funeral home, my first thought with a laugh: Lasorda.

When it comes time for the Big Dodger in the Sky to call on him, and I would imagine none of us will still be around to see it, I picture him dragging his feet, stopping that hearse and yelling, "Hey, where you going? I've got one more appearance to make."

The guy is 80-plus and still living life with the enthusiasm of a youngster. Let's see the Energizer Bunny eat like Tom Lasorda and keep on going.

Last month he made 22 appearances, received nine awards and spoke to everyone from a group of admirals and generals at an Air Force Base in Omaha to the Harvard-Westlake High football team.

He also went to Las Vegas for the Professional Bull Riders finals -- bull a word some might associate with Lasorda -- because he has an ownership interest in one of the circuit's bulls, of course, De Ja Blue.

You would think by now they would've run out of rotary clubs or Italian Hall of Fames, but Lasorda on Tuesday received the same medal previously given to a concert pianist who tried to avoid the press, Mr. Sulu from Star Trek, and a soldier reportedly involved in the execution of prisoners on the Bataan Death March.

The Emperor of Japan sure has some varied interests.

Now I've never met the emperor or seen him talk to Oprah or Ellen, and really my only experience in these matters is "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise.

Right away I'm thinking Lasorda is going to have to drop to his knees, bow and then try to stand up like Cruise, realizing as I type this sentence -- I'm comparing Lasorda to Cruise.

Anyway, I went to the ceremony eager to see what Lasorda might have in common with a pianist trying to avoid publicity all her life, a friend of Spock's and someone who went into hiding after World War II for fear of being charged with war crimes.

First person I run into is Dylan Hernandez, our Dodgers beat reporter, who has a Japanese mother, speaks the language and vacations on occasion in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I ask him whether the emperor is still alive and he says, "I think he's dead."

A few seconds later, he says, "He's alive."

Then he says, "I have no idea."

This explains why he has no problem reporting the Dodgers may sign Manny Ramirez, or maybe not, but then who knows?

I ask Ron Cey about the emperor and he thinks I'm asking about some umpire.

I ask Ned Colletti, and he mentions something about the economy and probably not being able to sign him.

Lasorda's assistant, Colin Gunderson, meanwhile, says Lasorda met the emperor while the two were at a baseball game in Japan and they seemed to hit it off. That would mean Lasorda did all the talking.

Turns out, it was the crown prince, or in other words, Jim Buss instead of Jerry Buss, and all that he wanted to do was thank Lasorda for treating Hideo Nomo so well.

Lasorda still hasn't met the emperor, but apparently made quite an impression from afar.

Junichi Ihara, the consul general here in L.A., explained that Lasorda has made tremendous contributions to the development of Japanese baseball while also bridging relationships between Japan and the United States without starting another war.

Lasorda made his first trip to Japan in 1965, but in one short stretch a few years back, he was there more than 25 times.

I was surprised they weren't pinning the medal on Bob Daly, the former chairman of the Dodgers during part of Fox's reign, who tried to cut team ties with Lasorda -- banishing him to Japan as often as he could.

Maybe someone else quits, or barks publicly, but instead Lasorda took those exhausting trips and then with unwavering enthusiasm promoted the game of baseball, doing so well a whole other country took note.

"He's a pioneer, a difference maker," says Bobby Valentine, who is now managing in Japan and is such a devoted friend to Lasorda, he made the off-season trip from Connecticut just to toast his pal.

"Long live the emperor and Tommy Lasorda," Valentine said.

And so it goes for Lasorda, with William Bratton, the Los Angeles chief of police, stopping by to congratulate him; Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrin paying respects; and former Dodger Eric Karros talking about the man who has meant so much to him off the playing field.

So nice to see someone who is still alive -- and kicking doesn't even begin to describe the guy's zest for life -- getting his due while he and his family can appreciate it all together.

--

THE OTHER day Jamie McCourt mentioned the tough economy and now it's Colletti.

"The economy is going to make a big impact on what happens," Colletti said. "I don't know anybody that hasn't been affected. It doesn't affect just the Dodgers or Major League Baseball, it affects everybody."

No word yet from fans if they will spend less because of the economy or because of the Dodgers' economical decisions.

By the way, times are so tough, next week's baseball meetings will be at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Obviously no room in the cheaper hotels off the Strip where fans might be staying.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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