Today is a very special day for me. I was invited by President George H.W. Bush to participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony and sit on a guest panel for the grand opening of Born to Play Baseball, a new exhibit at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Also participating are Joe Morgan, Drayton McLane, and Jeff Bagwell. Being included in such an illustrious group of baseball dignitaries makes me feel great, but it is an honor and a privilege to be invited by President Bush, who has always been a baseball fan.
One of my favorite memories of President Bush is when the Dodgers were in Houston to play the Astros at the Astrodome. Coincidentally, President Bush was there to watch the game. While we were talking before the game, it came up in conversation that a good friend of mine, Kevin Chilton, was also at the game and that he was an astronaut who had just returned from space. The president's face lit up like a Christmas tree and he said that those astronauts are his heroes. He asked me to introduce them.
So here I am, a baseball manager, being asked by the president of the United States, to meet an astronaut. I was happy to do it, and Colonel Chilton, who is now a general, was elated to meet the president who was one of his heroes.
People helping people.
When I get to College Station, I am going to remind President Bush about that and I am also going to tell him that there's a saying in this country; if you don't pull for the Dodgers there's a good chance you may not make it to heaven!
I went to Southwest Louisiana University to give a coaches lecture and there were 3000 coaches. As I was being rushed into the gymnasium, to being the lecture there was a little girl, about 11 years old. She had a glove and she asked me to sign it, and the guy that was escorting me said he can’t, he’s late.
I said, “Hey, hold it friend,” and I signed her glove.
That night at the dinner, I’m on the dais and she comes up and stands beside me for the entire evening.
Eleven years old.
When I left, two days later I received a letter from her, and I wrote back. Then I received another letter from her, and I wrote back again.
Now she’s in high school and now I’m Uncle Tommy. She asked me to go down to the school and speak, which I did. She told me that in the state of Louisiana, girls can not play on boy’s teams, so her father sued the state and won.
She became the first baseman in the boy’s baseball team in Crowley, Louisiana.
Now she’s in college, and she asks me to go down and speak to the college which I did. I met her family, and when she came to LA she met my family. Then when she graduated she wanted to play for the Silver Bullets, an all girls baseball team that would tour the country playing men’s teams.
She asked me if I could get her on that team, and I said yes I think I can.
I called Phil Niekro, the coach of the Silver Bullets.
I said, “Phil, do you remember when I selected you for the all star team?”
He said, “I sure do Tommy.”
I said, “Remember when I put you in the game and you hadn’t pitched in an all star game?”
He said, “I sure do Tommy.”
I said, “Well I’m going to call in my markers.”
I told Phil that I have an adopted niece that I want on the team, and that she could really play. She was on the team for five years until it was disbanded. When she left the team, I told her she should become a coach because she loves the game so much.
She is now the assistant softball coach at the University of Alabama. She has been there for more than 10 years, and although she has had opportunities to go elsewhere, she stays because of her loyalty to the head coach who gave her an opportunity to coach.
She is without a doubt one of the most outstanding young ladies you’d ever want to meet. Her name is Alyson Habetz, and her team, the Crimson Tide, is 15-0, and ranked number one in the country.
And that’s the young lady who I met when she was 11 years old.
Congratulations Alyson, and congratulations to coach Murphy and all your players.
Keep up the good work, and keep winning.
In spring training, it is the manager’s job to prepare his players physically, mentally and fundamentally. To be physically prepared his players have to be in good shape. To be fundamentally prepared his players have to know the game. But to mentally prepare players for a 162-game season, as well as the playoffs, the manager has to convince his players that the only way they will win is to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. That they must play the game in an unselfish manner. That if all 25 guys on the roster got on one end of the rope and pulled they could pull all 29 other teams with them. But if half got on one end, and the other half got on the other end, then you can pull all day, but all you pull is against yourselves.
This year the Dodgers have one of the best managers in the game in Joe Torre. I’m not saying that because he’s Italian, I’m saying it because I’m Italian! All kidding aside, I say it because Torre knows how to prepare a team in the three ways I talked about. Just seeing him in the clubhouse this spring gives me great hope for the season. He and his coaches have been met with great respect, and when he talks, our players listen.
Although he has four World Series rings, what impresses the players most is his knowledge of the game, and how he puts players in a position to succeed. He is joined by an excellent coaching staff in Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, Bob Schaeffer, Rick Honeycutt, Mariano Duncan and Kenny Howell. These guys don’t just give signs and hit fungo’s, they teach the fundamentals of the game. Just because Martin, Kemp, Ethier, Loney, Billingsley and Broxton are in the bigs doesn’t mean they stop learning the game. They have to work harder now than ever before, and it’s up to Torre’s coaches to help them learn.
Last Fall I spoke at 92nd Street Y in New York. Bob Costas was the moderator and he made a great comment. He said that the Dodgers have an Italian Hall of Famer, an Italian general manager and an Italian manager; now the Five Families are all happy.
Well I’m happy to have Joe Torre at the helm of the Dodgers. I look forward to an outstanding season, and how fitting would it be to raise that championship banner once again as we celebrate the Dodgers 50th anniversary of moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.