Tampa's legendary Al Lopez had a long and disting-uished career as a catcher and manager and was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
He was born Alfonso Ramon Lopez on August 20, 1908 and grew up in Tampa's Ybor City in its heyday. Whether playing baseball or being off for the season, Lopez was always Tampa's most admired sportsman. In a poll taken among retired major leaguers in the mid-1980s, Lopez was rated the seventh-best defensive catcher as well as the seventh-best manager of all time.
Al was an early graduate of Tampa's Jesuit High School, class of 1927. In the fifties, Al Lopez Field was erected in his honor on the site where Raymond James Stadium now stands. Al Lopez park to the north remains a tribute to Tampa's favorite baseball son.
He began his professional baseball career as a catcher in 1925 and had a brief stay with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of the 1928 season. He joined the Dodgers in 1930 as their starting catcher, batting .309.
A solid defensive catcher and intelligent handler of pitchers, Lopez led the NL in fielding percentage at his position four times. He remained with the Dodgers through the 1935 season, then was traded by manager Casey Stengel to the Boston Braves. In 1938, Stengel became manager of the Braves and during the 1940 he traded Lopez again, to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Later, Lopez and Stengel became rival managers in the American League, but they were also very close friends.
In 1945, Lopez became a backup catcher with the Pirates. He retired as a player after appearing in 61 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1947.
Lopez managed in the minor leagues for three years and took over the Indians in 1951. Cleveland finished second to the Yankees, managed by Stengel, three years in a row before a sensational 111-43 season and the pennant in 1954. However, the New York Giants beat the Indians four games straight in the World Series.
After finishing second in 1955 and 1956, Lopez resigned and planned to retire. But the Chicago White Sox hired him 1957. They finished second twice before winning the 1959 pennant, then lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
Chicago slipped to third in 1960, the first time a Lopez team hadn't finished first or second, then dropped to fourth place in 1961 and fifth place in 1962 before finishing second three more times.
Lopez retired after the 1965 season. He managed the team again at the end of the 1968 season and the beginning of the 1969 season before retiring for good.
In 1,950 games as a player, Lopez had a .261 batting average on 1,547 hits, including 206 doubles, 43 triples, and 51 home runs. He scored 613 runs and drove in 652. As a manager, he a 1,410-1,004 record, a .584 winning percentage. He's 18th all-time in victories and 3rd in percentage.
Lopez, 95, lives alone at his Tampa home. He allows for the daily game of gin rummy with his buddies from the Palma Ceia Country Club, where he played golf until back problems made him quit three years ago.