The book is out but don’t judge the author by the cover.
“I hate cigarettes,” Tom Stern said. “But I got four commercials out of it.”
Hanging with Stern means never taking a break as he tells countless stories. The 85-year-old Encinitas resident sporting double earrings is sharing his compelling tales in “Just Lucky I Guess.”
Fate has smiled on this New Jersey shores kid who went to spring training with the world champion Dodgers, traipsed around Germany during the Korean War and lived the Hollywood high life as an actor and writer.
Stern, who’s still a steady left-handed softball hitter in the La Costa 35 Athletic Club, wrote a soft back version of his life.
“I had to edit a few things out,” Stern said with a mischievous grin.
We’ll plug in that’s he’s in his second season with the Encinitas Little League. Appropriately he’s aiding the Tennessee Volunteers.
“He has coached or played baseball for seven decades,” Vols manager said Todd Sleet said. “There isn’t anything he hasn’t seen. He’s old school in a new age and it works.”
So does this fast-moving book. There are plenty of chuckles, tears and shrugs of amazement that everyone got out alive in these short stories which reveal the long life lived by Stern.
“I’ve got three kids, three grandkids and I’ll be damned if they are not going to know about me,” he said. “My motivation to do this was I never knew anything my parents.”
Stern came from a loving family but his folks’ journey wasn’t an open book.
“I didn’t know how my parents fell in love, what they did in their lives,” he said. “So I figured I’m a storyteller so I told some stories.”
Did you hear the one that prompted his Chesterfield ad that earned him $20,000 in 1958?
“I went to this agent, took some pictures and did things everyone else did,” Stern said. “They sent me for a commercial for Handy Andy. The tag line was, ‘Can I give you a hand, lady.’ I said that to the casting lady and she blushed.”
The director said Stern’s delivery was too suggestive. He exited but took a call the next day.
“It was the casting lady and she asked me if I smoked,” Stern said. “I had never smoked in my life.”
But for a commercial, Stern practiced turning into a chimney and he got the audition.
“I very coolly light the cigarette and put the match on the ashtray,” he said. “But when I go to smoke, no one is looking at me.”
Stern’s preparation went up in flames. The same was almost true of one pricey Persian rug.
“The match had fallen off the ashtray and everyone jumped out of their chairs to put the fire out,” he said. “They never saw me smoke.”
He got the gig.
Stern had a short one in 1956 with his beloved Dodgers after working out for the Chicago White Sox. Stern’s dependable bat got the White Sox’s attention. But he struck out as if facing a Sandy Koufax fastball.
“I had hit the ball really well,” Stern added. “And they said, ‘Kid, we really like you but you’re Jewish and we don’t have Jews in our organization.’ I didn’t want to play for them anyway. I was going to try out with the Dodgers.”
Stern arrived in Vero Beach, Florida, with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and a pretty good Jewish pitcher in Koufax. The boys of so many of Stern’s summers were in his midst, fresh from winning their only World Series in Brooklyn.
Stern’s stay was brief, but it comes with humorous recollections.
“I did alright but I hurt my hamstring going into second on a double and they sent me home,” Stern said. “Actually I originally hurt it doing the Charleston when out dancing one night.”
If your days and nights are as fulfilling as Stern’s, you’ve hit a home run. So has Stern in “Just Lucky I Guess” which is available at aspenwoodpublishing.com.
+ Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him @jparis_sports
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports