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Sunday, October 02, 2022

Hector Lopez, Who Broke a Baseball Color Barrier, Dies at 93

Hector Lopez, the first Black manager at the highest level of minor league baseball and one of the last living members of the early 1960s Yankees dynasty, who played in the team’s outfield alongside Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, died on Thursday in Hudson, Fla. He was 93.

His son Darrol Lopez said the cause of his death, in a hospital, was complications of lung cancer.

A native of Panama, Lopez was one of the first Black players for the Yankees. Appearing in five consecutive World Series, he was the very essence of a utility player, a capable nonstar who filled in as an infielder or an outfielder wherever there was a need. 
In the fifth and final game of the 1961 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he smashed a home run and a triple and drove in five runs in a 13-5 victory.

Lopez was released by the Yankees after the 1966 season, in which the team finished 10th and last, ending his 12-year playing career with a .269 average and 136 home runs. He played in the minor leagues for a couple of seasons, hoping to return to the majors. But instead, in 1969 he was named manager of the Buffalo Bisons, then the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers).

A New York Times headline read, “Hector Lopez Slides Safely Into Buffalo as First Negro Pro Baseball Pilot.” Lopez, lacking a star pedigree or much experience in coaching, was an unlikely trailblazer. George Vecsey, the longtime Times sports columnist, wrote that as an aging minor league player in Buffalo, Lopez was “a helpful senior citizen to Washington Senator farmhands” and got the job by being “in the right place at the right time and by wanting the job.”

“Good for Hector,” Elston Howard, the first Black Yankees player, said. “This is a good break for him.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 02, 2022 at 06:57 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hector lopez, obituaries

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   1. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 03, 2022 at 07:45 AM (#6098808)
Lopez was the embodiment of the good hit / no field utility player. At his peak he put up some pretty good offensive numbers, but in the field he was like a Bizarro World version of Oswaldo Cabrera, playing a total of seven defensive positions and butchering all of them. I remember a game in Detroit where he made three errors at third base and got away with two more that were inexplicably called hits, a game the Yankees somehow managed to win. Yankees fans put up with him because he could often produce the big hit at the right moment, but watching him in the field was an adventure.
   2. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 03, 2022 at 10:10 AM (#6098837)
Lopez was the embodiment of the good hit / no field utility player. At his peak he put up some pretty good offensive numbers, but in the field he was like a Bizarro World version of Oswaldo Cabrera,

which his why his derisive nickname was Hector "what a pair of hands" Lopez
   3. Ron J Posted: October 03, 2022 at 10:55 AM (#6098842)
#2 First time I heard that nickname was in Ball Four and it wasn't derisive. Bouton was talking about a game that Lopez bailed him out with a couple of great plays.

Which does not mean he was actually a good defensive player. I mean Kevin Mitchell wasn't good but did have that remarkable catch.
   4. vortex of dissipation Posted: October 03, 2022 at 12:18 PM (#6098865)
One of the greatest passages in Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris' hilarious The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book concerns Hector Lopez' fielding:

Now, it is not necessary for me to declare that Hector Lopez was the worst fielding third baseman in the history of baseball. Everyone knows that. It is more or less a matter of public record. But I do feel called upon somehow to try to indicate, if only for the historical archivists among us, the sheer depths of his innovative barbarousness. Hector Lopez was a butcher. Pure and Simple. A butcher. His range was about one step to either side, his hands seemed to be made of concrete and his defensive attitude was so cavalier and arbitrary as to hardly constitute an attitude at all. Hector did not simply field a groundball, he attacked it. Like a farmer trying to kill a snake with a stick. And his mishandling of routine infield flies was the sort of which legends are made. Hector Lopez was not just a bad fielder for a third baseman. In fact, Hector Lopez was not just a bad fielder for a baseball player. Hector Lopez was, when every factor has been taken into consideration, a bad fielder for a human being. The stands are full of obnoxious leather-lunged cretins who insist they can play better than most major leaguers. Well, in Hector's case they could have been right. I would like to go on record right here and now as declaring Hector Lopez the all-time worst fielding major league ballplayer. That's quite a responsibility there, Hector, but I have every confidence you'll be able to live up to it.
   5. JRVJ Posted: October 03, 2022 at 01:08 PM (#6098880)
Panama had some great (Carew) and very good (Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett for a bit) players in the 1970s, when I was growing up.

But prior to those two, it was pretty much Héctor López who would get mentioned. He was materially Panama's MLB baseball history prior to the Carew/Sanguillen generation.
   6. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 03, 2022 at 01:12 PM (#6098881)
I mean Kevin Mitchell wasn't good but did have that remarkable catch.

Right, but that catch was enabled by the most powerful PED of all: Vicks Vap-o-Rub. Mitchell used to eat it straight out of the bottle, and claimed that "It makes me feel like a champion."
   7. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 03, 2022 at 01:15 PM (#6098883)
R.I.P.
   8. Ron J Posted: October 03, 2022 at 02:33 PM (#6098895)
I should note that Lopez played third at a time where it was pretty common to try anybody who could hit, threw right-handed and had a decent arm at third.

Bouton was talking about a couple of great catches in the outfield and the link in #4 talks about him as a 3B. A lot of guys who couldn't handle the position ended up there in this general time frame and some of them were actually good at other positions. In New York Lopez played almost exclusively in the OF after 1959. And he doesn't seem to have been that bad there -- at least until he got old.
   9. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: October 03, 2022 at 02:59 PM (#6098900)
"Cavalier and arbitrary" is not exactly how you want anything about yourself to be described.
   10. SandyRiver Posted: October 03, 2022 at 03:03 PM (#6098902)
Lopez was moved off 3rd when a somewhat better defensive player was put there permanently, more of the "good field, no hit" species. He had single appearances at 3rd in 1960, 62 and 64, with a slightly greater (but still small) presence at 2B for NYY.
   11. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: October 03, 2022 at 03:07 PM (#6098905)
Contemporary accounts aside, both Fangraphs and BBREF seem to think that Lopez wasn't all that bad as a fielder. They both agree that his last 2 years were pretty bad. But up until then he was a plus (in the sense that his numbers weren't negative) fielder. +8 Rfield through 1964, -15 in 65-66. Fangraphs gives him a +3 TZ at 3B. BBREF gives him a +4 Rfield for 1956-1959, the years he made all but 1 of his career starts at 3B.
   12. sanny manguillen Posted: October 03, 2022 at 03:21 PM (#6098911)
Looking at a list for the all-Panama team, I ran across Frankie Austin, whose name was not familiar to me. Born in the Canal Zone in 1917, he played for the Philadelphia Stars during and after the war and is credited as a .343 hitter in five seasons. He moved to Organized ball (mostly the PCL), where his average moderated. Notably, BB-Ref has him playing 518 games at short for Portland at ages 36-38, three seasons when Portland only played to 517 decisions.
   13. sanny manguillen Posted: October 03, 2022 at 03:32 PM (#6098917)
Lopez played third at a time where it was pretty common to try anybody who could hit, threw right-handed and had a decent arm at third.


The Reds played Deron Johnson at third for 159 games in 1965, which goes a long way in explaining the Frank Robinson trade.
   14. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 03, 2022 at 04:06 PM (#6098923)
Lopez was moved off 3rd when a somewhat better defensive player was put there permanently, more of the "good field, no hit" species. He had single appearances at 3rd in 1960, 62 and 64, with a slightly greater (but still small) presence at 2B for NYY.

In 1959 Stengel shuffled his infielders around on a regular basis. Lopez played 76 games at 3rd while Gil McDougald played 25 at 3rd, 53 at SS, and 52 at 2B. Andy Carey and Jerry Lumpe filled in the rest of the games at 3rd.

In 1960 McDougald began the season as the regular 3B, but after a nightmarish game in early June where he made two costly 9th inning errors in a key game against the White Sox, he was replaced by a very good defensive 3B, Clete Boyer, a move that was credited in part for the Yankees' subsequent surge to the pennant. For several years Boyer was often considered to be the defensive equal or near-equal to Brooks Robinson, and in 1961-62 he led MLB in dWAR.
   15. The Yankee Clapper Posted: October 03, 2022 at 05:02 PM (#6098934)
In New York Lopez played almost exclusively in the OF after 1959. And he doesn't seem to have been that bad there -- at least until he got old.
That’s how I remember Lopez, an adequate left fielder on the 1960-64 pennant winners, although more of a spare part after the arrival of Tom Tresh. That’s when I came of age baseball-wise, and I was a bit surprised when I subsequently learned how much time Lopez had previously spent in the infield. No wonder Kansas City struggled so much!
   16. Walt Davis Posted: October 03, 2022 at 05:11 PM (#6098937)
He can't possibly have been worse than Pedro Guerrero. Keith Moreland was entertaining to watch there -- the man had no fear but I'm not sure that letting the ball bang off your chest then pick it up was as effective as he thought. (Man, TZ says Moreland stank everywhere ... -12/yr in RF is hard to do.)
   17. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 03, 2022 at 05:17 PM (#6098941)
In that game I mentioned in #1 above, the Yankees had pulled ahead by 9 to 8 in the top of 9th, but the Tigers loaded the bases with 2 outs in their half. The Yanks brought a rookie in to face Al Kaline, and he hit a routine one-hopper to Lopez---who promptly booted the ball, before recovering and just beating Charlie Maxwell to 3B for the game ending forceout. If Maxwell had won that foot race, it would've been Lopez's 4th error of the game. As I said, every day with Lopez at 3rd base was an adventure.
   18. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: October 03, 2022 at 06:26 PM (#6098946)
In that game I mentioned in #1 above, the Yankees had pulled ahead by 9 to 8 in the top of 9th, but the Tigers loaded the bases with 2 outs in their half. The Yanks brought a rookie in to face Al Kaline, and he hit a routine one-hopper to Lopez---who promptly booted the ball, before recovering and just beating Charlie Maxwell to 3B for the game ending forceout. If Maxwell had won that foot race, it would've been Lopez's 4th error of the game. As I said, every day with Lopez at 3rd base was an adventure.


That game had to be in 1959, as that was the only year he started any games at 3B for the Yankees. Fangraphs gives him a +1 TZ at 3B, BBREF a -1 for the season, which included 20 games in LF. He must have done something right to make up for all those horrible sounding anecdotes. For example, Pedro Guerrero gets a -13 and a -11 (in half a season) at 3B. Keith Moreland gets a -3 (full season), and a -4 (in 24 starts!).
   19. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: October 03, 2022 at 07:18 PM (#6098957)
Some other notoriously bad 3B (by reputation).

Bobby Bonilla -49 in about 6 years worth of starts, or -8/year

Gary Sheffield -54 in 3 years worth of starts, -18/year

Harmon Killebrew -51 in 5 years worth of starts, -10/year



   20. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: October 03, 2022 at 07:34 PM (#6098960)
On the flip side, contemporaries with good reps:

Clete Boyer, +163 in 9 years worth of starts

Brooks Robinson, +294 in 18 years worth of starts

Ken Boyer, +71 in 11 years worth of starts

Ron Santo, +27 in 13 years worth of starts

Santo appears to be Lopez's opposite doppelgänger. Great rep, OK stats.
   21. Ron J Posted: October 03, 2022 at 07:42 PM (#6098961)
#16 Jim Ray Hart was the go to for horrible in a long run at the position back then. But yeah, what happened with Johnson was pretty common.
   22. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: October 03, 2022 at 07:50 PM (#6098962)
Jim Ray Hart, -38 in 4.5 years worth of starts, -8/year. In his 3 years as a regular, he was -1, -16, +7.
   23. Best Dressed Chicken in Town Posted: October 03, 2022 at 08:10 PM (#6098966)
George Springer's grandfather (also named George Springer) was also a Panamanian ballplayer, albeit not of major league caliber.
   24. BDC Posted: October 03, 2022 at 08:12 PM (#6098968)
Cow's milk, "tiger's milk," soy milk, carrot juice,
brewer's yeast (high-potency—
concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez—
deadly in a pinch. And "Yes,
it's work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you're doing it."


— Marianne Moore, "Baseball and Writing." RIP.
   25. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 03, 2022 at 10:06 PM (#6098985)
That game had to be in 1959, as that was the only year he started any games at 3B for the Yankees.

Right, it was July 25, 1959. Here's the box score / play-by-play, and here's the writeup in the Times, where they mention the final out. I was at the beach, listening to the game on the radio, and like to had a heart attack after that final play.
   26. baxter Posted: October 03, 2022 at 10:21 PM (#6098986)
16. Obligatory Pedro quote: "I'm praying 2 things: Please G-d, don't let them hit it to me...and, please don't let them hit it to Steve Sax."-Pedro Guerrero
   27. SoSH U at work Posted: October 03, 2022 at 10:27 PM (#6098987)

16. Obligatory Pedro quote: "I'm praying 2 things: Please G-d, don't let them hit it to me...and, please don't let them hit it to Steve Sax."-Pedro Guerrero


Two quotes about Babe Herman's defense, one from a teammate and one from him:

"He wore a glove for one reason: because it was a league custom." Fresco Thompson.

When informed a man was impersonating him and writing bad checks, Babe said, "Hit him a few flyballs. If he catches any, it ain't me."

And that doesn't even touch on his baserunning...
   28. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 03, 2022 at 10:45 PM (#6098989)
Three Men on Third

What about the old story that the Brooklyn Dodgers once had three base runners on one base? Well, it might get embellished with the telling, but it is basically true. The date was August 15, 1926, first game of twos, Boston Braves at Brooklyn. It is the seventh inning with the bases full of Bums. Babe Herman hits the ball off the rightfield wall. Catcher Hank DeBerry scores from third, but pitcher Dazzy Vance, on second, holds up, thinking the ball would be caught. Finally he takes off, rounds third and heads for home. But the ball is thrown home and Vance heads back to third. He is met there by Chick Fewster, the runner who had been on first, and Herman the hitter who was right on his heels. They decide to let Vance have possession of third and head back toward second, but both are tagged out. The fielding play on Boston's part went from rightfielder Welsh to second baseman Gautreau to catcher Siemer, to third baseman Taylor to Gautreau, who came over from second. What it came down to for Herman was doubling into a double play.

Running gag in Brooklyn:
Passenger: I just heard over the radio that the Dodgers have three men on base.
Cab Driver: Yeah? Which one?
   29. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: October 04, 2022 at 06:23 PM (#6099080)
Hector Lopez's first pro team was the 1952 St. Hyacinthe A's of the Provincial League, one of the relatively few leagues that accepted black players back then. The A's were managed by John Sosh, who never made the bigs but played 14 years in the minors, beginning with the 1936 Rocky Mount Red Sox of the Piedmont League. Rocky Mount had no fewer than 12 former or future MLB players, including 37-year-old player/manager George "Specs" Toporcer.

Toporcer debuted with the 1921 Syracuse Stars of the International League (playing just 21 games there before heading straight to the Cardinals), who were lead by one Francis Joseph "Shag" Shaughnessy, who spent 20 years in pro ball, including nine (count 'em) games in MLB. Shag broke in with the 1903 Sioux City Soos of the Iowa-South Dakota League (yes, really), who featured a 40-year-old named Bob Black (why? He wasn't the manager or anything, but apparently was living in Sioux City [where he later died] and apparently had nothing better to do). Black played one year in the ahem majors, with one of the very worst MLB teams of all time, the 1884 Kansas City Cowboys of the Union Association. (Look them up...if you dare.)

Anyway...Black's first team was the 1883 Quincy Quincys of the Northwest League (this was back before they invented nicknames), whose player/manager was -- oh, joy! -- the one and only Dickey Pearce, then 47 years old. In fact, Pearce already 35 when he played for the 1871 New York Mutuals, the first season of the National Association. His very first season of baseball was, well, pretty much the very first season of baseball: he joined the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn in 1856, a year before the NABBP (the amateur forerunner to the NA) was even formed.

Ave atque vale.

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