Lasorda helps light way for Classic in New York
Event's ambassador helps illuminate Empire State Building with official colors
NEW YORK -- Tommy Lasorda threw the switch on Thursday morning on behalf of Major League Baseball to light the Empire State Building in blue, green, red and yellow -- the official colors of the World Baseball Classic, which is now under way in the Western Hemisphere as well.
Of course, there might have been a couple of other obvious color schemes if the Hall of Fame manager had his own way. One would have been Dodger blue, the color of his organization for virtually all of the past 64 years. The other would have been red, white and blue, considering how strongly he feels about the need for Joe Torre's Team USA to take this tournament, won the first two times by Japan.
"The United States, we've got to win it," Lasorda said. "The Japanese have won it the last two times. We cannot allow that. We must win it. We've got the greatest baseball players in the world right here in the United States, and we should never let anybody beat us in baseball.
"Let's hope the games will be played well, but let's hope the United States will come out victorious in this one. It's due. Just like the Dodgers are due. Twenty-five years since the Dodgers were in the World Series. That's not right. Year after year, the Dodgers performed in many, many World Series.
"I think all of our people in this country should pull for the United States," he added.
Lasorda is MLB's ambassador for the World Baseball Classic, and while he truly continues to promote the game and this event worldwide, one can understand where he is coming from. This is the man who not only managed the Dodgers to their last two titles in 1981 and '88, but also managed the U.S. to its greatest victory in the history of international baseball. That was in 2000, when Ben Sheets threw a shutout to give the U.S. its only gold medal during its Olympics eligibility, which ended after 2008.
Lasorda, now 85, had an eventful day. After flying in from Phoenix, he was part of the lighting ceremony along with MLB Network analyst and 2009 Team USA coach Bill Ripken, and he soon found himself hanging out with Justin Timberlake, who is hosting this week's NBC's Saturday Night Live.
Then on Friday morning, Lasorda is headed right back for Phoenix and that 2013 debut of Torre's Americans, which will be televised live on MLB Network.
"When I was selected to coach the Olympic team ... I told my players, 'You don't represent your family here, you don't represent the school that you've gone to, you do not represent the city you live in. You represent the United States of America. You're not going to do anything over there to embarrass yourself or your country.
"Nobody thought we could beat Cuba, but we did. I was proud. You know, coaches don't get medals, but I got my medal when I saw them putting the medal around the players. I got my medal when I saw them raise that American flag, and I got my medal when they played the National Anthem. I cried, because I felt very, very good, that I did something for my country. So we gotta pull for the United States."
Lasorda said the removal of baseball and softball from the Olympic program "was a terrible, terrible mistake." Those two diamond sports are among many events that will be considered for the 2020 Summer Games, but it will be a long and uphill battle to convince the International Olympic Committee to bring either of them back.
"The Commissioner saw what happened, he said let's have it every few years within ourselves," Lasorda said. "So this World Baseball Classic is growing each time, and since its infancy, more countries are playing baseball now than ever played before.
"[The lighting ceremony] tells you about our country, and other countries that are up here today. ... This is great. It's great for baseball. It's great for the country. Because America's the greatest country in the world, for me, and people come from all over to live in this country. They all want to live here, because America's the greatest. So we've got to pull for our American team in this tournament. We've got to get them to win."
Ripken made his first trip to the Empire State Building, and found himself surrounded by swirling snowflakes at the top. He said based on his own experience, he thinks the sudden replacement of Mark Teixeira with Eric Hosmer at first base will be good for Team USA.
"From my go-round in 2009, and Hosmer coming in now, I don't think it's ever a bad thing to bring some youth into the mix," Ripken said. "Maybe when you see some of these other countries get after it from pitch one, inning one, there's an intensity.
"Boy, on a selfish side, I'd have loved to have seen [Mike] Trout, [Bryce] Harper and some of the younger stars in the game get after it as well, but when Tex went down, it's a bummer for me because he was one of my players to watch. I thought he looked really good in Spring Training, the way it started off for the Yankees. This is a bad thing for us, but I think it could be a good thing for Hosmer, coming in and bringing some attitude. I like the way he plays first base. So it could be a good fit for him."