|Catcher / Manager|
August 20, 1908|
|Died: October 30, 2005
|September 27, 1928 for the Brooklyn Robins|
Last MLB appearance
|September 16, 1947 for the Cleveland Indians|
|Runs batted in||652|
|Managerial record||1,410–1,004 (.584)|
Career highlights and awards
|Election Method||Veterans Committee|
Alfonso Ramón "Al" López (August 20, 1908 – October 30, 2005) was an American catcher and manager in Major League Baseball (MLB). He played catcher for the Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers, Boston Bees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians between 1928 and 1947. He was a manager for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox from 1951 to 1965 and 1968 to 1969. His Spanish-American heritage and "gentlemanly nature" earned him the nickname "El Señor".
As a player, López was a two-time All-Star and established a major league record for career games as a catcher (1918). As a manager, his .584 career winning percentage ranks fourth in major league history among managers of at least 2000 games, behind Joe McCarthy (.615), Frank Selee (.598) and John McGraw (.586). His Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox teams were the only squads to interrupt the New York Yankees' string of American League pennants from 1949 to 1964, in 1954 and 1959, respectively. 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. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
López grew up in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, Florida, the son of Spanish parents who had briefly lived in Cuba before immigrating to Florida. The Tampa Baseball Museum is being constructed in his childhood home.
Al López 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. His father, Modesto López, came over from Cuba in advance of the rest of the family, and López's mother and older siblings joined him a few months later. Alfonso Ramón López, the seventh of nine children, was born in Ybor City in 1908.
When Al López was a small child, Ybor City was a thriving immigrant neighborhood with a population of over 10,000. The cigar industry was the most important in Tampa's economy at the time, and was especially important in Ybor City, where a high percentage of residents were employed either in the cigar factories or in businesses catering to the cigar industry or its employees. Modesto Lopez found work as a selector in a cigar factory, which involved sorting tobacco leaves for use in different grades of cigars. López visited his father's workplace as a child and later said that he "hated" the smell of tobacco leaves that permeated the building and his father's clothing when he returned home from the factory. "I vowed never to work in one." Modesto Lopez died of throat cancer in 1926.
As a teenager, López 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. He had begun to follow baseball more seriously after his elder brother Emilio introduced him to the game as they followed the results of the 1920 World Series. López later said that while his brother also had baseball talent, he himself was more driven to excel at the game.
López'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, quitting his job at the bakery and dropping out of high school at Sacred Heart College (later known as Jesuit High School). His starting salary with the Smokers was $150 per month, which was much needed by the large Lopez family during his father's illness. Soon after signing with the Smokers, Lopez impressed Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson with his abilities during a winter barnstorming exhibition game. He moved steadily up the minor leagues ranks and made his major league debut in 1928 with Brooklyn.
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 a consistently dependable catcher for many subsequent seasons. Over a career which ran until 1947, he caught for the Dodgers (1928, 1930-1935), Boston Bees (1936-1940), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940-1946) and Cleveland Indians (1947).
López'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.
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.
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. This record was not broken until 1987 by Bob Boone, and the National League record was broken by Gary Carter in 1990.
In 1948, López 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. By September 1950, López had re-signed with the Indianapolis Indians for the largest salary of any manager in American Association history. His contract allowed for him to leave for any major league managerial opportunity.
López 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.
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."
The 1957 White Sox team was light on hitting, in contrast to the Cleveland teams he ran. The team did have speedy players, including Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso and Luis Aparicio. The team stole 109 bases that year and was referred to as the "Go Go Sox". His team finally broke through and won the American League pennant in 1959 but lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. In the middle of the 1960 season, a friend of New York Yankees president Dan Topping told an Associated Press reporter that López would replace manager Casey Stengel. Stengel had managed López years earlier when López was a catcher for Brooklyn and Boston.
Despite the rumors, López stayed with the team until 1965. He finished in second place five times and never posted fewer than 82 victories. López retired to the White Sox front office after the 1965 season, dealing with a chronic stomach condition. He assumed a vice president position upon stepping down as manager.
López returned to manage the White Sox in July 1968 when Eddie Stanky was fired. He was able to get most of his former coaches to return to the team. However, he had to undergo an appendectomy shortly after taking over as manager and he missed most of the rest of that season. He was forced to retire due to his chronic stomach problems 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. 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).
López met Evelyn "Connie" Kearney, a dancer at the Hollywood Club in New York. The couple often went on dates with player Tony Cuccinello and his wife. When López was traded to Boston in 1935, the couple found it difficult to conduct a long-distance relationship. Soon thereafter, Kearney moved to Boston. They married in 1939. They had a son, Al Jr., in 1942.
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.
López 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, López 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!"
An aging Al López 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 López in his catching gear on the grounds. His high school, Jesuit High School, which is located across the street from Al Lopez Park, named its athletic center in Lopez's honor.
López served as the AL's honorary team captain in the 1990 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. When the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays began play in 1998 in nearby St. Petersburg, Lopez was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch. The Rays award the "Al Lopez Award" to the "most outstanding rookie" in the team's spring camp each year.
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