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Spaniards have the gift of patient melancholy. The long Castilian face, the black hair, the dark eyes provide a perfect backdrop for brooding, for pondering on the inevitable cruelties of fate. Que sera, sera, the song goes. What will be, will be. The Spaniard's face grows sad, but he shrugs his shoulders and endures.
Alfonso Ramon Lopez, 48, manager of the Chicago White Sox, son of Modesto and Faustina Lopez of Madrid (where they were married) and later Cuba and eventually Tampa (where their son was born), sat in the dining room of the Del Prado Hotel in the quiet east end of Chicago. According to the morning papers, the White Sox were in first place in the American League, with a surprisingly good lead over the New York Yankees. It had been a long time since an American League manager had maneuvered his team so far ahead of the Yankees. The last man to do so was this same Alfonso Ramon Lopez, in 1954 when he was managing the Cleveland Indians.
Lopez might well have been forgiven if his expression had been cheerful and proud, smug, vain, even arrogant, but his face displayed none of this. Rather, it was patient and a bit wistful, almost sad, as though he were trying to anticipate what foul plans fate might have in store for his White Sox.
It is his normal expression. For Lopez, managing is a constant worry, a nervous strain, a jittery agony. Some managers thus beset relieve the harrowing pressure by exploding in sudden rages at players and sportswriters, or else by maintaining an almost sphinx-like silence in an effort to remain calm. But Lopez is a gentleman—a decent, thoughtful, exceptionally courteous man. He seldom permits himself the luxury of a temper tantrum, and he talks to anyone who talks to him.
Occasionally, though, he shows his feelings. In 1954, the year he managed Cleveland to the pennant and a record for games won in one season, a sportswriter asked him quite innocently one day, "Al, are you having any fun?"
Lopez at once protested: "Fun? How can you have any fun managing?"
SUCCESS IN CHICAGO
This season, if ever, Al Lopez should be enjoying himself. Pushed out of his job at Cleveland because of the bumbling policies of the Cleveland front office, Lopez signed on as manager of the Chicago White Sox last autumn. The White Sox, with the most aged starting lineup in the league, were considered a dying team, with their best days—and in their best days they never finished better than third—behind them. The deposed White Sox manager, Marty Marion, on hearing that Lopez had been named to succeed him, commented grimly, "He better bring his pitchers with him." (At Cleveland, Lopez had possibly the best pitching staff baseball has ever seen.)
Lopez didn't bring his pitchers. He made no dramatic trades. Quietly, he went to work. He completely changed his strategy of managing. At Cleveland he had a slow-footed, poor-fielding team that depended almost entirely on the home run for offense and on pitching alone for defense. The Indians seldom took an extra base, seldom used the hit-and-run, seldom tried to steal; base runners planted their flat feet firmly on the ground and waited patiently for the home run. Fielders tensed as the pitcher threw and prayed for an easy pop fly. If one of the great pitchers faltered, Lopez gestured to the bullpen and brought in one or another of his remarkable relief pitchers. It was very sound and logical procedure but it was deadly dull, and it brought Lopez an undeserved reputation as a mechanical, unimaginative manager.
At Chicago, on the other hand, Lopez found himself with a thin pitching staff (except for Billy Pierce, the best in the league) and a distinct lack of power hitters. To compensate, Lopez worked toward developing a team of superior fielders (to give the pitchers all the defensive help possible) and race-horse base runners (to steal the runs they wouldn't get with home runs). He allowed his starting pitchers to stay in the game as long as possible, babying them, soothing them, hoping they'd stagger through, knowing that the team's chances were better with the tired starting pitchers than with the uncertain bullpen.