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09/22/07 11:05 AM ET

Lasorda grateful for 80 amazing years

Dodgers icon most proud of leading U.S. to Gold medal

Saturday is a milestone for one of the most beloved figures in baseball. Tommy Lasorda, baseball's grand ambassador and Hall of Famer, turned 80 years old.

For Tommy, it's a wonderful achievement that he really doesn't think much about.

"Being 80 years old, I can't believe that I am 80 years old," said Lasorda, who's still active with the Dodgers as the special advisor to chairman Frank McCourt. "I don't think I'm 80 years old, I don't act like I'm 80 years old. So who you're looking at and talking to is the most contented person you can find."

Lasorda reflects on his life, growing up in Norristown, Pa., one of five brothers to immigrant parents. Lasorda, had boundless passion for baseball that made up for whatever talent he lacked as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A standout in the Minor Leagues, Lasorda made the Dodgers' Opening Day roster in 1955, but was demoted in the early part of the season to make room for a young pitcher named Sandy Koufax, who had to stay on the Dodgers roster because he had signed for a large bonus during the offseason. Lasorda pitched for the Kansas City Athletics in 1956, but soon returned to the Dodgers, first as a scout, then Minor League manager and big league coach. At the end of the 1976 season, he replaced Walter Alston as the Dodgers manager.

"Tears came into my eyes," recalled Lasorda about the day he was hired by then Dodger president Peter O'Malley. "Because I thought about all the times I was on that field. I thought about all the teams that I turned down. I thought about sending guys to the Major Leagues, and now I'm gonna be with the ones I sent there."

During his 20-year career as manager of the Dodgers, Lasorda won four pennants, two World Series championships and eight division titles. He served briefly as the team's general manager in 1998, and has remained with the organization -- first as a vice president, and now in his present role.

"I lived a dream, said Lasorda. "I dreamt about being a big leaguer and the dream became a reality. All the good things that have happened to me, I'm still in awe. I still don't believe it is happening, but it is.

"There are four things that I have never regretted in my life. No. 1 is the love that I have for God. No.2, I never regretted that God gave me the greatest family a man could have. No.3, I never regretted living in the greatest country in the world, the United States of America. And No. 4, I never regretted one day of the 58 years I've been with the Dodgers.

Lasorda's love for the organization runs deep, especially when it comes to the two families who have owned the team during his tenure.

"I love the O'Malley family who gave me the chance to manage the Dodgers, and the McCourts who brought prestige back to me," said Lasorda. "They gave me my happiness and my confidence back. I truly love both families so very, very much, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for what they have done for me."

Lasorda, who has been friendly with seven U.S. presidents, countless politicians and just about everyone in Hollywood, from Frank Sinatra to current governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, can tell stories for hours about his years with the Dodgers -- like Kirk Gibson's home run in the1988 World Series that paralyzed a far superior Oakland Athletics team and allowed the Los Angeles to win the series in five games, and so many other great moments in Dodger blue. But he probably most proud of the red, white and blue uniform he wore in 2000 as the head coach of a vastly inexperienced United States Baseball team that competed in the summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

"I really wanted that position. I wanted it real bad," recalled Lasorda. "I was sick and tired of the Cubans beating us. I wanted to take a team into the Olympics and beat the Cubans. I took 24 players and all the scouts told me that I didn't have a good team. And even though I only knew one of the players, Pat Borders, I told my wife, Jo, "25 years from now there's gonna be a quiz: Who's the only guy to win a World Series and help his country win a gold medal? That's gonna be me'

"I told my players this was bigger than the World Series. This was bigger than my 50-plus years with the Dodgers. This was bigger than Major League Baseball. People thought I was wacky for telling them that. But if you win the gold medal, all of America will be happy, and I wanted to do something for my country. I told those young men, 'I don't know who you are. But when we are done here, the whole world will know, because we are going to bring the gold medal back here to the United States, where it belongs.'"

Led by Lasorda, the U.S. team upset Cuba to take home the gold medal.

"Coaches don't get medals, but I got my medal when I saw them put the medal around my players. I got my medal when they raised that American flag. I got my medal when they played our national anthem. I cried, and you know why I cried? Because I knew that I just did something for my country."

On September 14th, the Dodgers celebrated Lasorda's birthday before a packed house at Dodger Stadium. Among the many current and former players who reminisced on the Diamond Vision screen before and during the game was Cardinals manager Tony La Russa who said, "I can't believe you're 80, because you socked in 160 years of living into 80 years."

The current Hall of Fame manager would probably agree with the future Hall of Famer.

"I look at my four brothers, who I love very dearly, and I say, 'God, why couldn't they enjoy the same things that I have?'" said Lasorda. "Out of five, he picked me, and I never stopped thanking him.

"When I think of my life, if I could have seen God, and written down on a piece of paper what kind of life I wanted to have, you couldn't have given me a better one than the one I got."

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