SI Vault
 
THE VALIANT YANKEE-CHASER
Gilbert Rogin
March 22, 1965
Only twice in 16 seasons have the New York Yankees lost pennants—both times to teams managed by Al Lopez. Now spring is here again and so is Lopez, insisting, as always, that 'the Yankees can be beaten'
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 22, 1965

The Valiant Yankee-chaser

Only twice in 16 seasons have the New York Yankees lost pennants—both times to teams managed by Al Lopez. Now spring is here again and so is Lopez, insisting, as always, that 'the Yankees can be beaten'

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

In the course of time, Al Lopez, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, has been called, by various enlightened members of the working press, the Se�or, the Stylish Se�or, the Good Se�or, the Swarthy Se�or, the Serene Se�or, the Popular Se�or, the Dashing Se�or, the Happy Hidalgo, the Spanish Don, the Clever Caballero, the Cagey Castilian, the Calm Castilian, the Courtly Castilian, the Gracious Castilian, the Candid Castilian, the Happy Castilian. the Cast-iron Castilian, the Capable and Courtly Castilian, the Personable Skipper and the Frolicsome Al. His friends at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Tampa call him Cap, because when he was a player he was captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

For the most part, these sobriquets fairly delineate Lopez, and, furthermore, inform those who might assume his name to be of Eskimo origin of his true lineage. Lopez' parents, Modesto and Faustina Lopez, were born in the region of Asturias in Spain, emigrated to Cuba at the turn of the century and from there came to Ybor City, the Spanish quarter of Tampa, where Modesto got a job in a cigar factory as a tobacco selector, and where Alfonso Ramon Lopez, the seventh son of a seventh son, was born on August 20, 1908.

Despite his environment, Al Lopez does not smoke—nor does he drink hard liquor or wear a wristwatch or rings. He has a nervous stomach and goes on a milk diet during losing streaks. Lopez attributes his stomach condition to his habit, when he first came to the big leagues, of going to bed—while his teammates were still in the gin mills—and eating a pint of ice cream, which he balanced on his stomach. Lopez is also quite a poor sleeper. He generally awakens at 4 or 5 a.m. and reads for a while before he is able to go back to sleep. Lopez has recently read The Prize, which he recommends, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich . "I don't like to read, as a rule, that heavy a book," he says of the latter.

"As a player, I used to be the best sleeper in the world," Lopez says. "I wish I could be like other fellows and take a loss pretty good. I guess it's a matter of pride." He has been called the best manager in baseball because he suffers in private. Lopez disagrees. "I'm not the best manager in baseball," he says, "but I suffer in private.

"I don't know what it is, but it makes me more tired to sit in the cool of a dugout as a manager than it ever did to squat out there in the sun catching a double-header. How can you have any fun managing? I had fun playing baseball. I really did. I didn't know I was putting any effort or sweat into playing. I don't think a ballplayer can be a good ballplayer unless he enjoys his job. Those ballplayers who say, 'I play because I enjoy the money'—that's the bunk. I don't care if you're making a thousand or a million, go out and play. I don't begrudge any kid getting anything he can in the way of a bonus, but once you've got it go out and play. And after you've signed your contract, I don't want to keep hearing you saying you really deserved more. Once you sign, go out and play."

"The Yankees can be had," Al Lopez announced not too long ago. So what else is new? For more than a decade the sanguine cry of Lopez, like the voice of the turtle, has been an infallible herald of spring. It has even, on two occasions, been literally true; in 1954 and 1959 the Cleveland Indians and the White Sox, clubs that were managed by Lopez, respectively won the American League pennant, the only teams to overtake the Yankees in the last 16 years.

If Lopez is a lousy prophet he is, in the unremitting words of Casey Stengel, "an outstanding man, a gentleman, terrific people, quiet yet aggressive, an outstanding, first-class citizen." He is also a peerless baseball manager. In addition to his two pennants, Lopez has, in 14 years of managing in the major leagues, finished second nine times. "I'm not a failure," Lopez says, "but I don't feel I've accomplished what I've wanted. I want to win. I keep saying. The Yankees can be had," because I keep thinking they can. and I want my guys to believe they can win. I want to finish first." What Lopez leaves unsaid is that, for the most part, his players have never measured up to New York's. At Cleveland, where he managed from 1951 through 1956, he had pitching and power but lacked speed and had an inconsistent defense. At Chicago, where he has been since 1957, he has greatly improved an undistinguished pitching staff, generally has speed and fielding, but has never had any power, and his hitting has been markedly indifferent.

Lopez, who has some notably Spartan qualities, is apparently content to work with what he has instead of crying to the front office and the writers for, as in the present instance, more power hitters. Chuck Comiskey, a former White Sox owner, compares Lopez with Paul Richards, one of his predecessors as manager of the Sox. "Lopez doesn't panic," Comiskey says. " Richards would be screaming about this or that. He didn't have the patience. It could be June or July, and Richards would come up to the office and say, 'Can't we trade this fellow, or just send him out? I can't play him anymore.' Lopez is just the opposite. He goes with what he has."

"If a player has a small talent, Lopez will find a way to make it work for him," Stengel says. "He's a string-saver at heart. The big knock you hear about Al is that he has an outstanding record of finishing second. One great ballplayer could have made him a great manager."

"Lopez has finished second because he's had second-place material," says Hank Greenberg, who was Lopez' boss at Cleveland. "It's been a plus for him that he's been so close so many times with the material he's had. Lopez is not the type of manager who can fire a team up so that it plays over its head, like Leo Durocher, but Lopez will get the maximum from his players all the time, whereas a Durocher might steal a pennant one year but finish sixth the next."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7