On a cold March afternoon in New York City, baseball focused its attention on one of America’s most magnificent buildings: the Empire State Building. Inside stood Tommy Lasorda, a baseball icon, wearing a classy tan suit, confidently commanding the room. Lasorda was tasked with lighting the building to kick off the 2009 World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament.
The Empire State Building is an American marvel unto itself. It took only one year and forty-five days to build, so it was fitting for an American sports titan like Lasorda to be at its core. As he flipped the switch, blue, green, yellow, and red lights shined from the 72nd floor to the tip of the massive antenna atop the 102nd floor. Anyone with a clear view of the New York skyline saw it.
A model patriot, Lasorda cared about only three colors: red, white, and blue.
“We cannot allow those clubs to beat us. It’s our game,” Lasorda told the Associated Press in 2009. “Remember one thing: In your hearts, you better pull for the USA or you may not get into heaven.”
Lasorda died of a heart attack late Thursday night at 93. He didn’t just cement his legacy through baseball, but by being an American hero. He led the United States Olympic baseball team to a title in 2000 and is the only manager in history to win a gold medal and World Series championship.
But Lasorda’s storied baseball career is only half the mark he leaves. He was the embodiment of American pride. Never bashful, Lasorda put his country where his heart was and made sure everyone knew it.
He was an Army veteran, a soldier who paused his baseball career to serve the United States from 1945-1947.
In 1976, he condemned protestors who stormed Dodger Stadium in an attempt to burn an American flag until Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday heroically rescued it, one of the most significant moments in not just baseball history, but American history.
Lasorda never cowered to his critics’ opinions, and he especially didn’t back down that day:
“He came running past me yelling about every expletive that a longshoreman would utter on a bad, bad day!” Rick Monday recalled.
Lasorda represented the beauty of this country and the American dream. He was the son of poor Italian immigrants. He lived with a chip on his shoulder, exhibited strong determination, and became one of the greatest baseball managers ever, winning two World Series championships and 1,599 career games.
He devoted his life to the United States, both as a veteran and a philanthropist. He wore our country’s colors with great pride.
He once hugged then-President Jimmy Carter and future-President Ronald Reagan on the same day and received birthday cards from Nancy Reagan each year until she fell ill in 2015.
He didn’t toe party lines. To him, America was and still is the greatest country in the world, and he made damn sure we all knew about it. He believed in us, the people.
Lasorda did more than pull for the United States. America was his heart. And while he indeed bled Dodger blue, he bled American red, white, and blue first and always.