Tommy La Stella may have had a short few years with the Cubs, but it was pretty great. He may have been a bench player and occasionally started at 2B/3B, he was always the player I cheered loudest for.
I don’t know what it was (and still is) that made Tommy my favorite player, but it was immediate. Every time I hear “Oh What A Night (December 1963)” by Frankie Valli, I think of all the summer days spent at Wrigley watching him play.
All the funny looks and responses I got when I say Tommy is my favorite player just fueled my love more. Being able to drop statistics to explain why he’s so great, and seeing the person’s reaction, was always just fuel to the fire. I said it in 2016, and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face:
At a game in late 2016, I met a little boy who was coming to the game with his dad. After scanning their tickets and chatting with the dad a bit, I jokingly told the little boy he could only get in if I could guess his favorite player. He laughed and said, “Okay!” I started rattling through all the big names on the team: Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Schwarber. With each player I named, the little boy shook his head and laughed. As I got further down our roster, the dad said, “I don’t think you’re gonna guess it.” So I sighed and put my hands on my hips and said, “Okay, I guess I give up. Who’s your favorite player?” He excitedly said, “Tommy La Stella!” When I said that Tommy was my favorite player, the little boy got excited and said “Really? He’s so good!” I gave him some stickers and told the dad about the First Timer’s Booth, where he could get a certificate for their first game. The look of pure happiness on the little boy’s face was why I love working in sports so much. Having those moments and making those little connections with fans – especially young fans – is what makes the job great.
In September 2017, I went to a game and met Tommy after the game. I waited by the office building where the players came out. I ran into one of my coworkers, who was waiting for Tommy with his nephew – who was also a big fan. Tommy walked out and was walking down the street in our direction. We had called out to him, and he stopped to take pictures and sign autographs for us. He signed my “3 a.m.” shirt, and when he saw it, he laughed and said it was super cool. After we thanked him for stopping to take pictures and he had left, I hugged my coworker. He knew how much I loved Tommy and told me that he had taken a little longer in taking our picture so I could have that moment with Tommy. Easily the best interaction with a player I’ve had.
In 2018, I flew out to Arizona during my spring break to catch some Spring Training games. I was incredibly excited to see that Tommy was in the lineup for the game I went to. Of course every time he was at bat, I got excited.
In 2018, Tommy came in as a position player pitcher in a game against the Cards. The Cards were blowing the Cubs out of the water, so Maddon mixed it up by sending position players in as relief pitchers. I remember hearing Tommy’s walk-up music playing, but was confused because I knew it was still the top of the inning. I thought, “No, it just sounds like his walk-up song.” But then one of my friends said, “Hey, your boy’s in to pitch.” I immediately ran to where I could see the field and, sure enough, Tommy was on the mound throwing some warm-up pitches. Tommy ended up pitching 1.1 innings – which included Yadi Molina (who flew out to Almora) – and allowed one run and three hits.
In 2019, Tommy was practically a starter for the Angels. Tommy was dominant. In his first year with the Angels, he hit 12 home runs – which was more than he had hit in his career leading up to that point. That’s five years; one with the Braves and four with the Cubs. Tommy’s stellar performance with the Angels got him his first All-Star Game ballot appearance. With the help of Cubs fans and Angels fans alike, Tommy was nominated to his first career All-Star Game.
But, in early July, injury struck. In a game against the Texas Rangers, Tommy took a foul ball off his right tibia, fracturing it. This put him out for 8-10 weeks, ultimately causing him to miss out on his first All-Star Game. He still went in support of teammate Mike Trout and enjoyed the festivities – including seeing former teammates Javy Baez and Kris Bryant.
I still miss hearing “Oh, What A Night” (and eventually “Booty Swing” by Parov Stellar) play over the speaker at Wrigley with the Cubs’ PA announcer calling a pinch hit appearance, and my friends dealing with my obnoxious cheering. But anytime Tommy comes back to Wrigley, I’ll be there – and I’ll be cheering as loud as I can.
To the Cubs, thank you for Tommy. To the Angels, take care of him.