by Salvatore Manzo

Last week, on January 7th, the world of baseball lost one of its great ambassadors at the age of 93, Tom Lasorda. He was the oldest living member of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.

Lasorda was known for many things, but his larger than life personality, love for the game of baseball and the Dodgers, and the pride he had for his Italian heritage and being an Italian American stood above everything else.

His father Sabatino immigrated from the small town of Tollo (Chieti) to the United States, eventually meeting his mother Carmela (who also an Italian immigrant) in what would become Tommy’s hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Lasorda was very proud of his Abruzzese roots, and often spoke about his dream of seeing an Italian born and raised play in the major leagues.
“Before I die I would like to see an Italian play in the Major League” he once said. And on September 7, 2011 that dream became a reality when Alex Liddi made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners, becoming the first italian-born player in the history of MLB.

The photo sent by Lasorda to Geri with the inscriptio “To Massimiliano, Bono saluta tu paesano Tom Lasorda” | ©2021 M. Geri. All Rights Reserved.

IBSPA President Massimiliano Geri recalls his own experience with Lasorda as a young baseball fan in Italy and how impacted Geri’s love for the game: “I was a kid, 16-17 years old I think, the internet was already within everyone’s reach for a few years and I had started writing to the great players and Major teams to receive stickers, baseball cards and autographs. In short, everything that here in Italy was nowhere to be found.
Even though I live a few miles from the Camp Darby US base, without eBay and Amazon you had to know someone who in turn knew someone who had been to America to get even one baseball card! But it was so that the first to answer was Tom Lasorda, he did not expect to receive a letter from an Italian kid in love with baseball.

I sent him a card asking if he could sign it and not only sent it back autographed, but included two more cards, a copy of the Dodgers official fanzine and the official Hall Of Fame postcard signed. Not happy, he also included in the package an autographed photo with a fantastic inscription “To Massimiliano, bono saluta tu paesano, Tom Lasorda”.

But the most beautiful thing was that he had fed in me a passion for this sport, for its characters, for its history.
From that contact, dozens of other baseball greats followed up to today and the work we are doing with the IBSPA. Surely having received a letter from Tom Lasorda and the fact that he made me feel somehow close to MLB at that moment, has contributed significantly to what 20 years later we have created for the Italian baseball community and that is why every time I manage to bring a Major Leaguer or a character linked to our sport, the first condition I put is that they meet the kids, to plant within them the seed of passion for our Game.

Tommy was the definition of “baseball lifer” with a career that spanned from playing, managing/coaching, and being an ambassador for baseball across seven decades.

The HOF postcard signed by Lasorda “To Massimiliano Tom Lasorda” | ©2021 M. Geri. All Rights Reserved.

Lasorda, the last manager to win a World Series for Los Angeles (1981 and 1988), was finally able to see his beloved Dodgers be champions once again.
He was on hand to watch those Dodgers defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series back in October.

Besides being a two-time World Series winner and Hall of Fame manager in the MLB, Lasorda also has Olympic Gold Medalist on his resume as well.
Lasorda came out of retirement in 2000 to lead team USA to a gold-medal winning run through the Sydney games at the age of 73, beating the heavily favored team Cuba in the finals.

He also famously drafted future Hall of Fame catcher and current Italy manager Mike Piazza in the 62nd round as a favor to his father Vince, a longtime friend of Lasorda’s from Norristown.
Lasorda always revered Piazza’s success in the big leagues and took great pride in being the one “who found that kid”.

His impact on the game of baseball cannot be measured, and will be felt for decades to come.

The Board of Directors, it’s members, and all contributors of the Italian Baseball Softball Players Association extend their deepest condolences to the Lasorda family and we join the baseball community around the world in mourning this terrible loss.

Ciao Tommaso.

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