The End of an Era
Recently, the baseball world heard of the passing of one of its greatest
mangers, Al Lopez.
At age 97, he truly lived a long and fruitful life. Not only was he the
oldest Hall of Famer
prior to his passing, but he was the oldest Hall of Famer ever. He was the
last man alive
who could say he playing major league baseball in the 1920s. His passing
gives one a
chance to reflect on just how much changes he saw in baseball and in the
world. How old
was Al Lopez? Well . .. .
He’s old enough to have played against Connie Mack’s teams. He just
managing against the old master. He did manage against Bucky Harris, the
skipper for the
only Senators team to win the World Series, way back during the Coolidge
He’s so old all but one of the starters on the first team he ever managed is
now dead (Al
Rosen is the last survivor). You know Johnny Vander Meer, the man with
no hitters during the Depression? Lopez managed him. How about Barney
Tigers’ center fielder whose 200 hits helped guide them to the 1940 pennant?
him, too. When he took control of the Indians, only a handful of teams had
As a player, he shared the locker room with Dave Bancroft, Max Carey, and
spitballer Bill Doak. He actually played for long deceased Wilbert
Robinson. That all-star
game where Carl Hubbell struck out five Hall of Famers in a row? Al Lopez
though he wasn’t the backstop for that series of batters. He made it to
before the ivy did. As a teenager, he caught for the still-active Walter
Johnson in spring
training. Using baseball-reference’s version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,
one finds that
Lopez was just one degree removed from Walter Johnson (Joe Judge the common
teammate), Ty Cobb (Jack Quinn), and Babe Ruth (the immortal Jack
When he was born, Ty Cobb was a kid with one batting title, and around 500
Walter Johnson had less than 20 wins. Cy Young wasn’t an award, but a
pitcher in the
middle of yet another 20-win season. The youngest player in the NL was
baseman Fred Merkle, and he had yet to make his mark on the league. You
deadball great Smokey Joe Wood? He made his MLB debut four days after Al
born. He came into the world the same year as “Take Me Out to the Ball
most storied franchises in baseball history was, as unlikely as it sounds,
the Chicago Cubs,
with 8 pennants, 1 world series title, and a record 116 games won in a year.
Al Lopez was
so old he was alive the last time they won the pennant. The all-time save
leader was still-
active Iron Man Joe McGinnity, who had racked up an enormous 24 careers
American League New York club was not yet known as the Yankees, nor had they
any pennants. Cap Anson would survive until Lopez was 15, and George Wright
around until Lopez was almost 30.
When he was born it was the golden age of “small ball.” The average game
had over two
and a half sacrifice hits, and nearly as many stolen bases. There were over
three times as
many triples as homers. Pitchers were expected to go the distance. There
complete games for every save (not that the closer stat had even been
invented yet. Heck
the closer hadn’t been created yet). The entire AL had fewer saves, 46,
Cordero had this year (47). The American League’s all-time home run champ
at the time?
Why it was the immortal Harry Davis.
Those aren’t the only signs of just how old he was. In his lifetime,
Haley’s comet came.
And went. And came again. And made it a little over one-fourth the way
through its next
journey. The world had well under two billion people when he was born. The
less than 90 million of them. His birth town of Tampa held about 15,000 by
recent census. The entire country had only fifteen towns over a quarter
population. The entire state had well-under a million people. Then again,
many of the 46
states in the nation had under a million back then. Blacks still voted
Republican, as the
nation was still closer in time to Abraham Lincoln than to Martin Luther
King Jr. Protests
over the recent race riot in Lincoln’s old hometown of Springfield, IL were
about to lead
to the formation of the NAACP.
Al Lopez was older than Nat King Cole, the long dead black singer. He’s
older than the
Titanic. Not the movie - the actual ship itself. He’s older than Bill
Clinton or George W.
Bush. Heck, he’s older than George H. W. Bush. As a matter of fact, he’s
Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon. Christ - the man’s older than LBJ and JFK.
than Jesse Owens, star of the 1936 Olympics. He’s old enough to have come
drinking age during prohibition. He’s older than Tennessee Williams, whose
play was over forty years ago. He’s the same age as Richard Wright, whose
are almost old enough to qualify for social security. George Orwell would
about kindergarten age when Lopez came alive.
When he was born Irving Berlin was a struggling songwriter. “Alexander’s
Band” was still three years away. Al Capone was a juvenile delinquent in
New York City.
Mao Zedong was a fifteen year student. Vladimir Lenin was a largely unknown
Russian in exile. Jack Johnson was in training to become the first black
champ. Franklin Delano Roosevelt could walk. Harry Truman ran the family
Missouri. Ike had not yet begun attending classes at West Point. Woodrow
the president of Prinecton. T. E. Lawerene was “Lawerence of Jesus College,
and had just completed his freshman year. T. S. Eliot was an undergrad at
Eugene O’Neill was a hard drinking college dropout. Ernest Hemmingway was a
year old in Chicago’s suburbs. Adolf Hitler had just been denied entry into
of Arts in Vienna for the second and final time. Robert Frost was an
farmer. Jesse Orosco was a spot starter for the St Louis Browns. Einstein
still hadn’t yet
thought up the theory of relativity. Ghandi was still working in South
Africa when he was
born. Leo Tolstoy and Mark Twain were still alive. J. P. Morgan and Samuel
could still count their money. The Wild West was not that far removed as
lived. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were shot up
America about this time. Mussolini was a leftist. Black Jack Pershing was
army officer. Ambrose Bierce was looking to get himself pushed up against a
shot. James Joyce was doing a rotten job supporting himself as a school
Kafka was a nondescript civil servant writing stories in private. Alfred
Dreyfuss had just
retired from the French military. Ho Chi Minh was looking for a way to get
to France to
receive a western education. Winston Churchill was a young up and comer
named to the
British cabinet for the first time. Pablo Picasso had begun experimenting
with cubism just
two years before.
He’s older than the Model T Ford. He’s older than Crisco, Hellman’s
Oreo, Life Saver candy, or the Kewpie doll. The Qing dynasty still ran
China when he
was born. The Hapsburgs still ran Austria. The Romanovs were still in
predates the Armenian genocide. The Ottoman and German empires still
came into the world about the same time the first Zionist colony in
established. He’s old enough to have remembered the Lusitainia’s sinking
actually have remembered it, but he’s old enough so that it was possible).
He’s only 15
days younger than Bulgaria. Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.
nations in Africa were independent. The nation had just finished mourning
the death of
Grover Cleveland. He was around before a national celebration of Mother’s
was the first generation of children to play with erector sets.
When he was a young lad, there was no TV or even radio, but a lad could take
vaudeville show for 50 cents. Most movies went for a nickel or dime. The
was one to two pennies in cost. An older person could buy eight quarts of
whiskey for $5.
An intelligent youngster could pay his tuition, room, and board at Harvard
for $700. If he
had to stay at New York City along the way, he could get a hotel room for
$1.50. If he
wanted to drive there, a normal car cost $600. A Model T went only $360,
but if he really
wanted to impress the ladies he could spend about $3000 on a new cadillac.
had yet to have its first self-service grocery store, as Piggly-Wiggly would
not open until
It was a very different and in many ways worse world. Within eight days of
blacks were lynched in four different incidents in America. When he only a
old a black man was lynched for insulting a white girl in the eventual
hometown of Bill
Clinton, Hope, AR. The worst atrocities of imperialism were still going on
Leopold continued to rule the Congo as his own personal holding. If you
wanted to get
from the Pacific to the Atlantic, you had to go around the Straights of
average worker made about as much money as Alex Rodriquez makes in 15
$750 a year. Or, if you’d rather, they made as much in eleven years what he
in a half-inning. The average person died at about the age of 50. Speaking
out on behalf
of birth control could get you arrested under the Comstock Act. No woman
east of the
Mississippi River could vote. It had only been two years since Upton
Sinclair had turned
the nation’s stomach with his tale “The Jungle.” Blacks were still lynched
routinely in the
Jim Crow South. Many towns throughout the nation were “sundown towns” that
not let blacks stay in there over night.
I think what I’m trying to say is—he was old.
Posted: November 04, 2005 at 01:58 PM | 43 comment(s)
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