Lasorda honored by Japan

Lasorda honored by Japan

LOS ANGELES -- It takes a lot to make Tommy Lasorda speechless, but on Tuesday the Hall of Fame manager was at a loss for words in describing the honor bestowed upon him by Japan when he received its Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette medal for his contributions to Japanese baseball.

"How god planned this life for me is unbelievable," said Lasorda. "I'm in awe every time something like this happens. But to be honored by a country, that's pretty good. You say, 'Why me?' I mean this is big!"

The award was given to him at a ceremony at the home of Consul General of Japan Junichi Ihara. Ihara pinned the award on Lasorda on behalf of the emperor of Japan. Lasorda has been working with teams and players from Japan since 1965 at the behest of then Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, who had his scout work with the Tokyo Giants and is credited with helping their early success in the latter part of that decade.

"I will cherish this award, I mean cherish it," a humbled Lasorda said, looking at the medal given to him by the Consul General. "The people of Japan, we had great relationships with them, when Mr. O'Malley wanted me to go over there and help teach them how to play -- which is what I did. Mr. O'Malley started it all and then handed the baton to his son Peter, who along with the late Ike Ikuhara did a lot for building a great relationship with Japan and Ike's son-in-law, Acey Kohrogi, is still with the Dodgers and he and I go back to Japan a lot."

"When I was at my first Spring Training at Vero Beach in 1969, the Tokyo Giants were there," recalls Bobby Valentine, who after a successful career as a Major League manager is having the same success in Japan as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines. "Tommy had me go eat with the Giants and learn to use chopsticks, because he said, in 1969, 'One day soon the world will come together where Japanese baseball and U.S. baseball will be one.' And to see him still at this age loving the game, promoting the game and being recognized by anther country is good for him and good for baseball.

"Baseball is the number one sport in that little country of 120 million people, so it should be understood that when the emperor looks to a guy like Tommy Lasorda to say, 'Hey, you're a baseball guy and I appreciate what you have done for our country -- for the game of baseball here and around the world,' I think it should be something that people should step up and take notice, too."

The man who presented Lasorda with the award agrees.

"It is official recognition of a person who has contributed to Japan or relations between Japan and another country," said Consul General Ihara. "This time Mr. Tommy Lasorda was recognized by the Japanese government for his contribution to promoting friendship between Japan and the United States through baseball, so in that sense I think that this ceremony was very significant and important for us."

Eric Karros, who played for Lasorda from 1991-96, spoke at the ceremony about watching first-hand how Lasorda helped Hideo Nomo break that glass ceiling for Japanese players coming to the Major Leagues in 1995.

"When you talk about the influx of Japanese players at the big league level since Nomo, I'm not sure that door would have been kicked open with out the success of Nomo," Karros said after the ceremony. "More importantly Tommy and his ability to create a comfortable environment for Hideo, as someone said earlier at the ceremony, he didn't have a win in his first four starts, coming over to a new country and all of those challenges. Tommy was able to minimize those challenges and help Nomo become successful."

Lasorda, who is also credited with helping the turnaround of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and his tireless work as the official ambassador for the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, still believes his success and ability to work with players and coaches in Japan stems from his relationship with the Dodgers.

"This honor was not for me in itself," Lasorda said. "When you honor me, you honor the Dodgers. I've been with them now going on 60 years. When you honor me, you honor my family, you honor the people that have been associated with me in this organization -- so that's what it's all about. I'm the happiest, luckiest and most appreciative guy in the whole world.

"When you go out and do the work I do, you don't expect something back. You do it because you love to do it and make people happy by doing it, make people successful by doing it. I don't do it because something comes back at me, I do it because I love to do something for people. I never expected to be honored by the people of Japan. I just wanted to help them."

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.