López in 1955.
|Outfielder / Third baseman|
Born: July 9, 1929|
|May 12, 1955, for the Kansas City Athletics|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 30, 1966, for the New York Yankees|
|Runs batted in||591|
|Career highlights and awards|
Héctor Headley López Swainson (born July 9, 1929) is a former left fielder and third baseman in Major League Baseball who played for the Kansas City Athletics and New York Yankees from 1955 to 1966. He is notable as the first black manager at the Triple-A baseball level, as the third outfielder on the Maris/Mantle Yankees, and as the Kansas City Athletics franchise hitting streak record holder. López was on World Series Championship teams for the Yankees in 1961 and 1962. In various seasons, he finished among the top 10 American League hitters in hits, runs batted in, runs scored, doubles, triples, slugging percentage, sacrifice flies, sacrifice hits, games played, times hit by pitch and at bats. He was also known for his hustle, his clutch hitting and poor fielding.
López was the second Panamanian-born major league baseball player and continues to be one of the country's most revered world champion athletes. Although Humberto Robinson (102 games played/5 seasons) debuted in the major leagues 22 days earlier than López, López (1,450 games played/12 seasons) was the first of the 49 major leaguers born in Panama to have an extensive career. He was the first Panamanian-born major leaguer to finish in the top 10 in any official statistical category (sacrifice hits, 1956); first to lead his league in any official statistic (sacrifice flies, 1958); first to play in the World Series (with the 1960 Yankees); and the first to win a World Championship (with the 1961 Yankees).
He was an infielder for the Athletics, and later was often the third outfielder on the Maris/Mantle Yankees of the early and mid-1960s. López had his most successful season in 1959, but continued to contribute effectively during the early 1960s during their pennant successes. The utility player divided his career almost equally between infield and outfield positions. After retiring from baseball, he went on to become a groundbreaking manager in minor league baseball as the first to break the baseball color line as a black manager at the Triple-A level for the Buffalo Bisons and then served in various international managerial and coaching positions.
Born in Colón, Panama, López grew up in Colón and the neighboring Panama Canal Zone. He held a part-time job at an American military base bowling alley. He was a high school track star whose father had been a pitcher for the Panama national baseball team. As a high school athlete, he played semipro baseball for US$100 per month in Colón. After he graduated from high school he signed to play with St. Hyacinthe of the Canadian Provincial League who also employed Clifford "Connie" Johnson.
Kansas City Athletics (1955–59)
Prior to the 1952 season, López was acquired by the Philadelphia Athletics from the Drummondville Cubs of the Class-C Provincial League for $1,500 ($13,823 today). In 1954, López won baseball's Triple Crown in the Winter League. Throughout his professional career, he played in the Panama winter league where he won three batting titles and regularly led the league in home runs. López developed in the A's farm system, and when the team relocated to Kansas City in 1955 he was recalled to the major league club. López made his major league debut in 1955. That season he finished second to Carlos Paula among rookies in batting average and was overshadowed by American League strikeout-leading pitcher Herb Score for the Rookie of the Year. He usually played second or third base during his time with the Athletics. During his rookie season, he finished third on the team in home runs, trailing only Gus Zernial (30) and Vic Power (19). He tied Jim Finigan for third on the team in RBIs with 68, trailing only Zernial and Power, who had 84 and 76, respectively. López was the team's regular third baseman, and was the youngest regular starter on the team. In 1956, the team finished with a 52–102 record, but López had a career-high 153 hits. He also set then-career highs in home runs (18) and runs batted in (69). In his early years, black and white players did not room together on the road, so he roomed with Vic Power even though Power's closest friend on the team was Clete Boyer. In 1957, he had a 22-game hitting streak, that is the All-time Kansas City Athletics team record for the thirteen seasons the franchise played there.
He earned a position in the top-10 in the American League in both games played and at bats in 1956 and 1958, as well as leading the AL in sacrifice flies and times grounded into double plays in 1958. López also was in the top 10 in doubles and runs scored in 1958 and in sacrifice hits in 1956. On June 26, 1958, López hit three home runs in a game against the Washington Senators. During his career with the Athletics, he hit .278 with 67 home runs and 269 RBIs, and scored 298 runs. However, his talents were wasted on a team that never finished above 6th place. On May 26, 1959, he was traded with Ralph Terry to the New York Yankees for Johnny Kucks, Tom Sturdivant, and Jerry Lumpe. For all his offensive skills, López led American League third basemen in errors in each of his four full seasons in Kansas City.
Baseball writer and Kansas City Athletics fan Bill James wrote that López was as bad a defensive player as you would ever want to see. The Authors of The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book wrote of López's defense "I would like to go on record right here and now as declaring Hector López the all-time worst fielding major league ballplayer."
New York Yankees (1959–66)
In his first season with the Yankees after being traded, he played 35 games in the outfield, the first time in his career he played more than 20 outfield games. He still played 76 games at third base for the team. In his 33 games with Kansas City at the start of the 1959 Major League Baseball season, he had played exclusively at second base. In his next five seasons with the Yankees from 1960 to 1964, he mostly played in the outfield as he was part of five consecutive pennant winners. During his time with the Yankees, he was often the third outfielder of the Maris/Mantle Yankees that won two of the five consecutive World Series they played in from 1960 to 1964. López is one of eleven Yankees to have been on these five consecutive pennant winners and along with Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson, & Clete Boyer is one of seven Yankees to have been part of the entire Maris/Mantle Yankee era. In 1965 and 1966, he made the majority of his outfield appearances in right field. However, in 1965 Mantle did not play center field. Mantle did return to center field for the majority of his appearances in 1966 (the final year of the Maris/Mantle Yankees and the final year of López' career).
In 1959, he finished in the top 10 in slugging percentage, hits, doubles and RBI. In 1960 he was among the top 10 in triples and sacrifice hits. During the 1961 World Series, López replaced Mantle (who only had six Series at bats) in Game 4 and recorded a 2-run single on the way to a 7–0 victory. In Game 5, which was the Series-clinching game, he homered and tripled, driving in five runs, and caught Vada Pinson's fly ball for the final out of the Series. His three for seven, 7 run batted in performance continues to be remembered by New Yorkers as a highlight of the series.
In 1967, Lopez played for the Washington Senators' Triple-A Pacific Coast League affiliate Hawaii Islanders. The following season when the Buffalo Bisons of the International League became Washington's Triple-A affiliate, Lopez joined the Bisons as a player. He then became their manager in 1969. This made him the first black manager at the Triple-A level. This was six years before Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the major leagues. López was one of three black men (along with Sam Bankhead and Gene Baker) to manage in the minor leagues in the twenty-five years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. In 1990, he coached Malverne High School of Malverne, New York in Nassau County on Long Island in addition to working in the parks department in the Town of Hempstead. López has also managed in Venezuela and been a player-manager in Panama.
He paved the way as a role model for the first three Panamanian Major League All-Stars, Ben Oglivie and Manny Sanguillén also from Colón, and Rod Carew a Colonense born in neighboring Gatun. López recorded many firsts among Panamanian baseball players; he was the first regular major leaguer, since 1955 was his rookie season, whereas Robinson did not qualify as a rookie until 1958 (the season in which he recorded his 50th career inning pitched) and Webbo Clarke, who also debuted in 1955, never qualified as a rookie. López' 1955 rookie season, when he batted .290, was also the first by a Panamanian to qualify for baseball's statistical leadership by recording the minimum number of plate appearances or innings pitched. Thus, although he was not the first to appear in the major leagues, he was in a sense the first Panamanian everyday player.
None of the other major leaguers born in Panama who played in the 1950s (Robinson, Clarke, Pat Scantlebury, Tom Hughes) played in the major league postseason, which then only included the World Series, before López did so with the 1960 Yankees. No other Panamanian was part of a World Series champion before López with the 1961 Yankees. He was the first Panamanian to record many statistical accomplishments, such as a stolen base, home run, double, triple, walk or strikeout. His 1956 season was the first by a Panamanian with more than 150 hits, more than 25 doubles, 90 runs scored, or more than 60 walks. His 1959 season was the first with more than 20 home runs or 90 runs batted in. López twice had .350 on-base percentages, but in each season he recorded over 400 plate appearances without recording the qualifying number for unofficial league leadership. Thus, his career high on-base percentage in a season in which he qualified for statistical leadership was .347 in 1956. He was the first to finish among the top 10 in his league in each of the aforementioned statistical categories, and the first to lead his league in any official statistical batting category (sacrifice flies in 1958). López was the first Panamanian to accumulate a sufficient number of career appearances to qualify for career statistical leadership (which depending upon the source is based on 3000, 4000 or 5000 at bats), although his career .269 batting average, .330 on-base percentage and .415 slugging percentage are not historically significant.
He also represented Panama in the 1960 Caribbean Series and tied with Félix Torres and Herman Davis for the tournament home run leadership. He continues to be considered a legendary world champion who represented the country. In 2006, he was cited by professional basketball coach, Joseph Clarke, as ranking alongside such noted Panamanian sports personalities as Ismael Laguna, Roberto Durán, and Mariano Rivera as Panamanian World Champions. López has two sons. Ever since López' performances with the Yankees, the team has had a huge following in Panama.
Lopez retired following the 1966 season at the age of 36. That year, he also participated in his first Old-Timers' Day. He has returned to the annual event every year (totaling 52 years as of 2018).
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