A lot has been said about the Dodgers leaving Vero Beach. The comments are realistic, but the sentiments are sad. I've heard many, many fans say we are sorry to see you go, but we understand why you have to do it.
Even though we are moving, we will always have our memories. I first reported to Dodgertown in 1949. I was a young left handed pitcher with a lot of hopes and dreams. I was in a training camp that hosted more than 700 players. In order to make it to the Brooklyn Dodgers I would have to beat out about 200 pitchers. Prior to reporting, I had never been more than 10 miles from home.
The line outside the dinning hall looked like a line for Southwest Airlines. But every player, coach, manager and executive would eat in the same dinning hall. You would even find Walter O'Malley himself standing in line. I would eat next to the great Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges. I would tell my parents that I dinner with them. They never said anything to me, but hey, I had dinner with some of my heroes.
As Dodgertown grew, so did the city of Vero Beach. When we first reported, there was only one bridge, and it was so shaky they would only let on car cross at a time.
While Vero Beach has grown, it's not the buildings or the monuments or the streets that make it great. What makes any city great are the people, and the people of Vero Beach are the heart of the city that so many of us Dodgers have loved for so many years.
I would like to thank Vero Beach for a lifetime of memories. You have played the perfect host, and I will never forget all the great times I have had.
The last game was an emotional one. I was really trying to win that game. I called for a double steal and I put on the squeeze. Furcal played all nine innings, and Loney did too. Russell Martin stayed on the bench all day long even though he could have been in the clubhouse, and I put him in to pinch hit in the ninth. The players showed a lot of respect for the fans at Dodgertown, the game, and for me. As I walked down the right field line for the very last time, I couldn't believe what I saw. There they were, forming a tunnel with their bats and letting me walk through.
I have had a lot of great things happen in my life, but what those players did for me is something I will never forget.
They made an 80 year-old man feel great.
In 1988, after every win I would walk into the clubhouse and scream at the top of my lungs, "How sweet it is!"
Kirk Gibson, who the young players followed around like chicks following around the mama duck, would yell, "The fruits of victory!"
I couldn't have been happier. A lot of people were telling me not to worry, and that spring training games don't matter. But to me, there are two teams on the field. One has to win and the other has to lose. And I'd rather be the one who wins.
My boy, Brad Penny, who I am trying to groom to win the Cy Young, pitched for five shutout innings, only giving up one hit.
Andre Ethier hit a two-run home run and we never looked back. In fact, coming into today's game, I only had 1,599 career wins, so today's win gets me 1,600. I hope they don't have to change my plaque in Cooperstown.
Today is her birthday, and she deserves nothing but the best. She should be eligible for Saint-hood after putting up with me for all these years.
I love you Jo. Happy Birthday!
I have had many sleepless nights as Manager of the Dodgers. Many times I could be found walking the streets after a tough loss. There were times I walked back to Manhattan from Shea Stadium. At every corner I would have to sign more and more autographs.
Once Mark Cresse and I walked back from the stadium in Montreal to our hotel, which was about eight miles.
Once in Philadelhia we lost a tough game and I was really mad. I told the guys I would not get on the bus, and so I starterd to walk back to the hotel. Along the way a paddywagon came by.
"What are you doing Tommy?" yelled the officer.
"Get in here, it's not safe!" yelled another.
I got in and got dropped off at the team hotel by the officers in the paddywagon.
Once in Atlanta, we were up by four runs going into the bottom of the 9th. The Braves were rallying, but we only needed one out to win. Roger McDowell couldn't get the out so I brought in Jim Gott. He couldn't get the out so I brought in our closer, Jay Howell. He couldn't get the out either and the Braves ended up winning.
I was so furious that I told Billy DeLury, our traveling secretary, to go without me and that I wanted to walk.
So I set out walking back to the hotel, and along comes an ambulance.
"Hey Tommy, what are you doing walking?" called one paramedic.
"Please just leave me alone," I answered.
A block later he called out again, "Come on Tommy, let us take you. It isn't safe around here this time of night."
I figured I should let him get on with his job and that I should stop being a hard head so I climbed in and off we went to the hotel. When we got there, Jim Gott was standing in the lobby and when he saw me get out of the ambulance he thought I was coming from the hospital. He was scared to death. I told him the story and that I just wanted to blow off some steam and that I hate to lose.
We are now 0-3, and I still hate to lose!
When Orel Hershiser reported to me in Vero Beach many years ago, the scouts said he had the arm, but not the heart to compete. I told Hershiser that when Dale Murphy hears the PA announcer say, "And now pitching for the Dodgers, number 55, Orel Hershiser," he can't wait to get his at-bat. So I told Hershiser that from then on I was going to rename him the Bulldog. And I told him that from that moment on I wanted him to think like a bulldog, act like a bulldog and pitch like a bulldog.
Well, you saw how his career turned out.
Now I have renamed Chad Billingsley the Pitbull. He has as good stuff as you'd want to see in a young pitcher. I wouldn't even trade him for a power hitter because he can win games for many years to come.
Today, Pitbull climbed the hill of thrills for me in my second game back at the helm of the Dodgers. Although we lost, Pitbull didn't give up any runs in the four innings he pitched.
The starter for the Nationals had good location and got our batters with his breaking ball. We didn't score until my boy, Andre Ethier, hit a solo home run into right-center field. I love his sweet, left-handed swing.
We have a good, young team that is going to be competitive for the next eight to ten years. Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley... They are all young and very talented. But as I have told many players over the years; talent which is used develops. Talent which isn't used wastes away. It is up to them. They have to make up their minds right now and ask themselves how much of a price are they willing to pay to succeed. And only they can answer that question.
photo by Orlin Wagner/AP
After a 4,250 day break, I have returned to manage my beloved Dodgers. While it is for only eight games during spring trianing, I still haven't lost that love for the game. The last time I managed the Dodgers was June 23, 2006, and I left the club with a two game lead.
This spring, I have been asked to manage the team again while Joe Torre takes our split squad to China. While they are making history there, we are making history here. Did you know that this is the only case where a manager in the Hall of Fame has ever come back to manage again?
I can honestly and truthfully say that I am the only manager to be walking the streets of ths country who has never been fired. During my twenty years as manager of the Dodgers, 212 managers were fired, so it's proof positive that you have to win.
Although we did not win today, which I am upset about, it was still great to get back in uniform and manage the ball club. I felt right at home, especially when James Loney hit a tapper up the first base line. The umpire called it fair, even though it was blatantly foul, and called Loney out after the catcher tagged him.
Well as Manager it was my job to tell him that he was wrong.
I would like to thank the McCourt's, Ned Colletti and Joe Torre for giving me this opportunity. While it feels good to manage again, it feels even better knowing they thought enough of me to entrust me with the team and give me this opportunity. They have made an old man feel great.
I am looking forward to tomorrow morning though, because I am going to address the players in a closed-door meeting. I hope they don't hear me in Port St. Lucie!
I first met Dr. Frank Jobe in 1964 when I visited his office when he was working with then team doctor, Robert Kerlan. I had hurt my hand in a minor altercation as two guys were speeding down my block and putting the kids who were playing in the street in danger. I hollered at them to slow down and be careful. They came around the block, got out of the car and got in my face, so I hit the guy with a left and flattened him.
Dr. Jobe treated my hand with extreme care, and I was very impressed not only with his medical knowledge, but with his sensitivity and compassion.
Frank McCourt has now made Dr. Jobe one of his special advisors. I am the other. I couldn’t be any happier for Dr. Jobe, and congratulate him on his new title.
To see that the McCourt's think so highly of Dr. Jobe and his contributions not only to the Dodger organization but to many, many people in baseball is outstanding. He brought back careers of players that looked like there was no way they could ever play again. He is dedicated, and to honor him by putting him in this position, I commend the McCourt's for realizing and recognizing how much he has contributed to the Dodger organization, and to baseball.
It couldn’t happen to a greater man. I would have to say he is probably the first doctor to ever to be put into such a prestigious position. And that’s a tremendous honor and award.
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.