Tommy Lasorda is a baseball legend.
He won two World Series during his 20-year tenure as the Dodgers’ manager and is a celebrated part of baseball lore.
But he has nothing to do with Penn, why did the university just rename its baseball field after him?
The Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics recently announced that Warren Lichtenstein, a 1987 College graduate, would be donating a $2 million transformational gift that will be used to fund upgrades and renovations at Penn baseball’s field. In addition, the field will undergo a name change to Tommy Lasorda Field at Meiklejohn Stadium at the completion of Phase I of the project.
“I am honored to have a baseball field named after me in my home state of Pennsylvania and at the University of Pennsylvania,” the 93-year-old Lasorda said. “I am most thankful to my great friend, Warren Lichtenstein, and everyone at the University of Pennsylvania, for this unbelievable tribute and honor.”
Liechtenstein is the founder of Steel Partners Holdings L.P., a publicly-traded holding company with a market cap of $180.1 million. He is also chairman of a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturing company and longtime philanthropist.
Liechtenstein and Lasorda met 11 years ago in Los Angeles after Lichtenstein had recently moved to California with his family. Lasorda was brought along to a dinner by a mutual friend, and the two hit it off immediately.
As Lichtenstein’s son was just beginning to participate in a whole array of organized sports, Lichtenstein and Lasorda spent an enormous amount of time with one another in Los Angeles, attending practices and games — from the little league level to the MLB.
“I understood the effect that a good coach had on a child and a person. The more time I spent with Tommy, the more I realized what an amazing story Tommy has/had,” said Lichtenstein.
Lasorda grew up in Norristown, PA, the son of two Italian immigrants; his father spoke hardly any English and worked in a query. All Lasorda wanted to do was play baseball, and from the moment he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies at age 16 to 77 years later today, Lasorda has been living that dream and fulfilling his goals.
He is now a retired Hall of Famer, a two decade long MLB coach and manager, a World Series and Olympics winner, and one of Warren Lichtenstein’s best friends.
“Through baseball, he has positively impacted so many people’s lives through bringing out the best in them, by showing exemplary character and grit, and showing empathy and emotion that no coach in any sport did until Tommy,” said Lichtenstein. “He was probably the first manager to hug his players.”
Part of their long history together was co-founding a social impact business for athletes named Steel Sports. Together, they have crafted a culture and foundation that carries on and teaches the same core values of integrity, grit, and empathy.
“He’s a tireless man, where he will go anywhere for anybody at any time. That’s a characteristic that I hope gets passed down from generation to generation, and I hope people talk about Tommy at Penn for many years to come because Penn is not going anywhere,” said Lichtenstein, “The combination of two institutions is going to outlast all of us.”
In addition, Coach John Yurkow hopes that the field will serve as both a great morale booster to current players and a draw for recruits. Not to mention that the upgrades themselves will surely come in handy.
Construction on the field was intended to get underway this fall, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans were forced to be halted. As of now, renovations are scheduled to begin after this year’s season in May or June of 2021. If all goes as planned, the upgraded field will be ready for use in the fall of 2021.
Along with the name change are substantial upgrades that include the artificial turf, renovated dugouts, a protective net, and a permanent restroom facility. All in all, these alterations showcase the desire to enhance the overall quality of the experience for fans and players alike.
“We could have 4 to 5 inches of rain on a turf field, and then we could walk right onto it and play, and it wouldn’t affect us,” said coach Yurkow. “It will allow us to maximize our time spent on the field, which is great.”
Lichtenstein’s generous donation provides a bright light for Penn Athletics and Penn Baseball in the future, as players and coaches are rightfully eager to return to practice and competition.
“It’s an exciting time for Penn baseball,” said coach Yurkow. “With the trajectory around the program and the talent level in regards to recruiting, all these things are coming together at the right time. I’m just really looking forward to everything getting started.”
The story goes to show the impact a friendship can have, and it has resulted in Lasorda being honored in his home state.