Al Lopez

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Al Lopez
Al Lopez - WJROneOfAKind.jpg
Catcher / Manager
Born: (1908-08-20)August 20, 1908
Tampa, Florida
Died: October 30, 2005(2005-10-30) (aged 97)
Tampa, Florida
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB debut
September 27, 1928 for the Brooklyn Robins
Last MLB appearance
September 16, 1947 for the Cleveland Indians
Career statistics
Batting average.261
Hits1,547
Runs batted in652
Managerial record1,410–1,004 (.584)
Teams

As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Induction1977
Election MethodVeterans Committee
 
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Al Lopez
Al Lopez - WJROneOfAKind.jpg
Catcher / Manager
Born: (1908-08-20)August 20, 1908
Tampa, Florida
Died: October 30, 2005(2005-10-30) (aged 97)
Tampa, Florida
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB debut
September 27, 1928 for the Brooklyn Robins
Last MLB appearance
September 16, 1947 for the Cleveland Indians
Career statistics
Batting average.261
Hits1,547
Runs batted in652
Managerial record1,410–1,004 (.584)
Teams

As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Induction1977
Election MethodVeterans Committee

Alfonso Ramon "Al" Lopez (August 20, 1908 – October 30, 2005) was an American catcher and manager in Major League Baseball, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. His Spanish-American heritage and "gentlemanly nature" earned him the nickname "El Señor".[1]

He established a major league record for career games as a catcher, and later became the only manager to interrupt the New York Yankees' string of American League pennants from 1949 to 1964. With a .584 career winning percentage, he ranks 4th in major league history among managers of at least 2000 games, behind Joe McCarthy (.615), Frank Selee (.598) and John McGraw (.586). Over the course of 18 full seasons as a baseball manager (15 in the major leagues and 3 in the minors), his teams never finished with a losing record.

The Tampa Baseball Museum is being constructed in his Ybor City childhood home.[2]

Early life[edit]

Lopez was the son of immigrants from Asturias, Spain. Both of his parents immigrated to Cuba, then settled in the Cuban-Spanish-Italian immigrant community of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida in 1906.[1] Lopez was born in Ybor City in 1908, the seventh of nine children.[3]

The cigar industry was the most important in Tampa at the time, especially in Ybor City, where a high percentage of residents were employed either in a cigar factory or in a business serving the cigar industry or its workers. Modesto Lopez, Al's father, worked as a selector in a cigar factory, which involved sorting tobacco leaves for use in various grades of cigars. Lopez visited his father's workplace as a child and "hated" the smell of tobacco that permeated the factory building and his father's clothing when he returned home form work. "I vowed never to work in one," he said later.[4][5] Modesto died of throat cancer in 1926.[3][6]

As a teenager, Lopez took a job delivering Cuban bread door to door for La Joven Francesca Bakery, which was located in a building which later became the Ybor City State Museum.[5]

Statue in Al Lopez Park

Baseball player[edit]

After a boyhood spent playing baseball whenever possible, Lopez's professional career began in 1924 when, at the age of 16, he signed on as a catcher with the Class-D Tampa Smokers of the Florida State League. His starting salary was $150 per month, which was much needed by the large Lopez family during his father's illness.[6] Soon after signing with the Smokers, Lopez impressed Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson with his abilities during a winter barnstorming exhibition game.[5] He moved steadily up the minor leagues ranks and made his major league debut in 1928 with Brooklyn.[4]

After splitting time between the major and minor leagues, Lopez became the Dodgers' regular starting catcher in 1930 at the age of 21 and remained dependable at that position for many seasons. Over a career which ran until 1947, he played for the Dodgers (1928, 1930-1935), Boston Bees (1936-1940), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940-1946) and Cleveland Indians (1947).

Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem ejected Lopez from a game before its inception after Lopez pasted, onto home plate, a photo he clipped from a newspaper, which showed Klem clearly in error calling a play involving Lopez. The catcher had covered the photo with dirt and waited for Klem to brush off home plate.[7]

Lopez's best offensive season was 1933, when he hit .301, stole 10 bases, and finished 10th in National League MVP voting. Overall, he compiled modest batting numbers, including 613 runs, 51 home runs, and 652 RBIs and a .261 batting average. He was better known for his defense and his ability to handle pitchers, which earned him two trips to the All-Star game and respect around the league.[4][5]

In 1945, he surpassed Gabby Hartnett's major league record for career games as a catcher, and when he retired after the 1947 season, his major league record for games caught stood at 1918.[6] This record was not broken until 1987 by Bob Boone, and the National League record was broken by Gary Carter in 1990.

Baseball manager[edit]

In 1948, Lopez began his managing career in the minor leagues with the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates's Class AAA affiliate. He spent three years in Indianapolis, leading his squads to one first place and two second place finishes in the American Association while serving as the team's backup catcher.[5]

After his minor league success, Lopez was hired as the new manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1951. The Indians won over 90 games each season from 1951 to 1953 but came in second place to the New York Yankees every year. In 1954, Lopez's squad won a then American League record 111 games to capture the AL pennant but were upset by the New York Giants in the 1954 World Series. In 1955 and 1956, Lopez's Indians again finished in second place behind the Yankees. Lopez was "incensed" that Cleveland fans repeatedly booed Indians third baseman Al Rosen during the stretch run of 1956 season and felt that team management did not properly support his injured player. Consequently, he resigned at the end of the season, and agreed to manage the Chicago White Sox a month later.[8]

The White Sox finished in second place to the Yankees in 1957 and 1958. Describing Lopez and his managerial style, a 1957 Sports Illustrated piece said, "For Lopez, managing is a constant worry, a nervous strain, a jittery agony. Some managers thus beset relieve the harrowing pressure by exploding in sudden rages at players and sportswriters, or else by maintaining an almost sphinx-like silence in an effort to remain calm. But Lopez is a gentleman — a decent, thoughtful, exceptionally courteous man. He seldom permits himself the luxury of a temper tantrum, and he talks to anyone who talks to him."[9]

His "Go Go White Sox" team finally broke through and won the American League pennant in 1959 but lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. He stayed with the team until 1965, finishing in second place five times and never posting fewer than 82 victories.

Lopez retired to the White Sox front office after the 1965 season, but returned to manage parts of the 1968 and 1969 seasons after manager Eddie Stanky was fired. When Lopez retired for good due to health concerns in May 1969, his 1,410 wins ranked 11th all-time, and he never had a losing record in 15 seasons as a big league manager.[10] His 1954 Indians and 1959 White Sox were the only non-Yankee clubs to win the AL pennant between 1949 and 1964 inclusive. His 840 wins with the White Sox still rank second in franchise history, behind Jimmy Dykes (899).

Personal life[edit]

Lopez married the former Evelyn "Connie" Kearney in 1939. They had a son, Al Jr., in 1942.[5]

Upon retiring from baseball in 1970, Lopez returned to Tampa to live near family and friends. He died there on October 30, 2005 at the age of 97 after suffering a heart attack at his son's home. His death came just four days after the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, their first championship in 88 years and their first pennant-winning season since Lopez had led them to the World Series in 1959. At the time of his death, Lopez was the last living person who had played major league baseball during the 1920s and is the longest-lived member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.[5]

Legacy[edit]

Al lopez park sign.jpg

Lopez was the first Tampa native to reach the major leagues, the first to manage a major league team, the first to lead his team to the World Series (the others being Lou Piniella and Tony LaRussa), and the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As such, he has been the recipient of many honors in his hometown.

When the city of Tampa built a new minor league and spring training ballpark for the White Sox in 1954, it was named Al Lopez Field in his honor. Later in life, Lopez would recall a spring training incident in which an umpire with whom he was arguing threatened to throw him out of a game there. "You can't throw me out of this ballpark," protested Lopez, "This is my ballpark - Al Lopez Field!" The umpire ejected him anyway, causing Lopez to exclaim, "He threw me out of my own ballpark!"[11]

An aging Al Lopez Field was razed in 1989, so Tampa rechristened Horizon Park, a city park a few blocks north of the old ballpark, as Al Lopez Park and installed a statue of Lopez in his catching gear on the grounds.[12] His high school, Jesuit High School, which is located across the street from Al Lopez Park, named its athletic center in Lopez's honor.[13]

When the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays began play in 1998 in nearby St. Petersburg, Lopez was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch.[5] The Rays annual award the "Al Lopez Award" to the "most outstanding rookie" in the team's spring camp[5]

In 2013, Lopez's boyhood home was moved to a lot across the street from the Ybor City State Museum, where it will be refurbished and reopened as the "Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House".[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b George, Justin. He was 'pride of Tampa Latinos'. Tampa Bay Times. November 1, 2005. Accessed August 22, 2013.
  2. ^ Smashing start Tampa Baseball Museum WTSP
  3. ^ a b Singletary, Wes (1999). Al Lopez : the life of baseball's El Señor. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9780786406562. 
  4. ^ a b c Al Lopez, a Hall of Fame Manager, is Dead at 97. The New York Times. Octobrt 31, 2005. Accessed August 22, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Al Lopez | SABR
  6. ^ a b c Al Lopez, A Legend. Tampa Tribune.
  7. ^ Baseball's Greatest Managers, 1961.
  8. ^ St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search
  9. ^ Creamer, Robert (July 1, 1957). "The Good Days And The Bad Days Of Al Lopez". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ Al Lopez Managerial Record. Sports Reference, LLC. Accessed August 22, 2013.
  11. ^ St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search
  12. ^ Hall of Famer Lopez passes at 97. MLB.com. Accessed August 22, 2013.
  13. ^ The Tiger Tradition. Jesuit High School. Accessed August 22, 2013.
  14. ^ Morel, Laura C. Al Lopez house moves to Ybor City for new life as museum. Tampa Bay Times. May 16, 2013. Accessed August 22, 2013.

External links[edit]