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."
"A manager can contribute only two things to a club," Lopez has said. "He can inspire his players and he can do a good job of handling his pitchers. As for one manager outsmarting another, you can put them all in a hat. Bunting, hit-and-run arc just not that important. The big concern is, can the man handle the personnel? I think every new manager should be given a two-year contract so he can get to learn his personnel. The manager has to be up every day and keep those guys in the best frame of mind, keep them from getting down on themselves, and he has to keep the pitchers fresh and strong."
Lopez is not an advocate of clubhouse meetings or of fines. "What's the sense of lecturing or fining players?" he says. "They're adults. If they won't play our way, let them play their own way—some place else. Pep talks are O.K. in football when you have to get a club up for only a handful of games, but you can't get a club up for 162. Most of the players don't listen to what you say in a meeting anyway."
Lopez recalls holding one of his infrequent meetings in Baltimore in 1961. "We'd been playing bad ball," he says. "I told them they were a better team than they had been looking. I said, 'Goddamn it, don't let it get you down.' Things like that. They went out and were beaten horribly. 'I guess I made a mistake,' I said after the game. 'You're———!' They won 19 out of the next 20 games."
Lopez has three rules he wants his players to obey: outfielders must always throw to the cut-off man rather than to a specific base, no player should ever hesitate rounding first base on a single when a teammate is trying to score from second and everybody must keep the curfew.
"I don't believe in being too tough," Lopez says. "If you're going to start fining for missing signs—bunts, steals—you've got a tight ballplayer. When a guy makes a mistake. I take him to one side as soon as he comes back to the bench, call him over in a nice way and tell him what he's done wrong. I try to keep from showing I'm mad. If you continuously blow your top, you're not in control. You can't stay mad at the players. They're the ones that are winning the games for you. They're the ones doing the work. For instance, I don't think everybody should concentrate on going to the opposite field, but the smaller guys, the guys who hit 12, 14 home runs—they should. When they've hit into another double play I tell them, 'Go to right field a little bit; keep out of the middle.' Instead of doing what I say, they figure the next time up they'll hit the———out of it. On the ground, up the middle, double play again. I could say, 'Goddamn it, if you don't hit to right field, I'll take you out of the ball game.' You use this method, you ruin a lot of ballplayers."
Lopez has fined only two players in his entire career. "They both came in after hours." he says, "and both had been warned. I also fined one pitcher for not covering first base, but I don't count it. At the end of the year I gave it back with a note attached: 'For great improvement shown in covering first base, this bonus for $100.'
"One of the guys I fined, I didn't think he was taking care of himself. Once when we were on a road trip, I called his room at 1:45 a.m. This is a true story. His roommate said he wasn't in, so I told him to put a note on So-and-so's pillow to call me when he gets in. I couldn't sleep. I was worrying about him. Finally I go to sleep, and I get a call. 'Hey, Skip, you leave a note for me?' It's him. It's 8:30 a.m. All I could say was, 'You mean you're just getting in?' This same player didn't like to wear a cap before the game. He had very wavy hair. It's against the league regulations not to wear a cap, and it's bush. He's prancing up and down, the goof, showing off his build, which was very good, and his wavy hair. I'm looking at him from the dugout. He doesn't see me. He's looking in the stands. 'Put your cap on,' I say. 'Why are you looking in the stands? I didn't have wavy hair or a build, but I did all right. If that's the only way you can get a girl, you're either very cheap or a lousy romancer.' "
"Lopez knows how he wants things run and he runs them that way," says Bill Veeck, who bought the Sox from the Comiskeys. "He is at his best with a club that acts and plays as intelligent professionals should. He's not the type to get along with screwballs. If Al has a weakness as a manager—and I said if—it is that he is too decent. Unlike me, he will not have a roistering or even troublesome player around. He's a fine, honorable, intelligent, careful man with a definite philosophy on how the game is to be played. He does not climb all over people. He would rather advise than admonish, but he does demand a full effort."
"He's the nicest guy in the world, but he rules with an iron hand," says Earl Battey, who played for Lopez in Chicago before being traded to the Minnesota Twins. "He had a temper, but I never realized it until he got mad at Vic Power one day and started taking off his glasses. Lopez gives the impression he doesn't pay any attention to you, yet he's always watching you. When you are warming up pitchers he might be way on the other side of the field, but he would notice you were catching the pitcher the wrong way and come and tell you. He is the man that made me. When I was disappointed about being traded away from a pennant winner to a second-division club, he said, 'You have to prove to yourself you can be a first-string catcher or you'll be a second-string catcher all your life.' He is not a taskmaster, but he expects certain things from his players and he gets them. Sam Mele [the Twins' manager] is closer to his ballplayers. Lopez does not talk to the players openly. He is not around them in the clubhouse."
"I like people," Lopez says. "I like for people to like me, but I think the players should respect you. You can't go to saloons or play cards with your players. As soon as I became manager I stopped playing cards. I don't even play cards with the writers. If I go in a saloon and one of my players is there, I hope he gets the hell out of there. If he doesn't I'll buy him a drink, and when he finishes it I hope he gets the hell out of there. Players should have that much respect."
"I don't think Lopez is necessarily an easy manager to play for," says Jerry Holtzman, who covers the Sox for The Chicago Sun-Times. "For the guy who is putting out every day, there is evidently no problem, but ballplayers don't put out every day, and that's where they run into trouble with Lopez. For instance, Jim Landis, more than any other player, came closest to Lopez' idea of perfection. He could run, hit, throw, he was superb in the field, he kept his mouth shut and he wasn't a showboat. Landis, however, didn't have the temperament—or possibly the strength and desire—in the last few years, and he was a severe disappointment to Lopez. Lopez just expected much more from him, and I think Landis resented this.
"Lopez is more lenient with a young player than any other manager. He becomes more demanding as the player gets older and has more experience, but he sometimes loses patience when his repeated advice is forgotten or ignored.
"Lopez took a lot of criticism in Chicago for staying with Landis when he wasn't hitting. Chuck Comiskey remembers going to Lopez and suggesting he give Landis a rest. 'I did it because Lopez was being crucified in the press,' Comiskey says, 'and I thought this was a way to get some of the heat off, but all Lopez said was, 'Chuck, if I bench him now, I'd be breaking his confidence—and besides, he's our best center fielder.'
"More recently, Lopez has been accused of keeping Landis in his doghouse, but even this past August, when it appeared that the Sox had a chance for the pennant, Lopez called Landis in and said to him, 'Jim, you're the guy who could put us across,' but Landis didn't respond." Landis was traded to Kansas City in January. He had been the last remaining member of the 1959 team that brought Chicago its first American League pennant in 40 years.
Lopez believes that pitching is 75% of his ball club, and there is ample evidence for his claim that he and Ray Berres, his pitching coach, have developed the best staff in either league.
"I never really knew, or understood, how to pitch until I was traded to the White Sox," says Bob Shaw, who is now with San Francisco. "Lopez and Berres make, manufacture fine pitchers. That's why, year in and year out, the Sox are near the top. It's that simple."
"Lopez could write the text on the mechanics of pitching," says Bob Lemon, who pitched for him at Cleveland. "Why you use a certain pitch. When you use it. What pitch should follow another. Why it should follow."
"Lopez is one of the few managers I've ever heard of who'll give you a sign when you're in a tight spot on the mound and don't know what to do next," says Early Wynn, who was on both of Lopez' pennant-winning teams. "Most managers, when they see you signal for a sign, get up and walk to the water cooler or turn their back and pretend they didn't see you."
"Lopez doesn't try to be a genius," says Herb Score, another of the outstanding pitchers Lopez had at Cleveland. "He doesn't overmanage and he isn't a hunch manager. He watches a pitcher so intently that often, between innings, he'll mention some slight change you have made in your delivery."
"Lopez frequently lifts his pitchers when they have a lead," says Holtzman. "Few managers yank pitchers when they are ahead but, by doing it, Lopez stole maybe a half dozen games during the first half of last season."
Lopez is of two minds about lifting pitchers. On the one hand, he says, "I don't want to go out there in the first place. I'm always hoping the guy can stay nine innings." On the other hand, he gets a kick out of the daring or ingenious use of pitchers, as he indicates in this rhapsodic account of one of his most successful maneuvers last year: "Horlen gets the first guy out. The next guy either singles or walks. Peters is pitching tomorrow, so he's warming up anyway. I bring him in for one hitter—to get Siebern out. I then motion to Wilhelm. By God, he strikes Robbie out on a hell of a knuckle ball! Horlen had a two-or three-hitter, too."
However, Lopez says, "If you get too technical with a pitcher about pitching to a certain batter, he's liable to walk him rather than let him hit the ball. The simplest baseball pays off. I tell my pitchers the main thing is to get the ball over. Let them hit the ball. When you give up walks, they're going to score runs.
"This isn't a game that you can put down with pencil and paper, say this is how you're going to do it. It's good to have information on, say, a certain batter, but you have to have the pitcher who can pitch to his weakness. And you have to have the count in your favor, otherwise you have to come in with a fat pitch. You have to get ahead of a batter to pitch to his weakness and, even then, only one out of two, one out of three pitches to a batter's weakness will be a good pitch.
"Defense will help your pitching, and a club with a good defense is going to win its share of ball games. It wasn't pitching that hurt Minneapolis last year, it was their defense. Everyone raves about the power of the Yankees, but their success over the years has been mainly due to a great defense. They lost the World Series last year because their defense was poor.
"I'm speed-conscious. Speed and an arm—these are the basics. Most people think: Can you hit? I like a running club. In Cleveland I had almost nobody who could run, and the lack of speed cost us many a ball game, for it's always better to have a man on third than on second, or on second than on first. We don't teach enough base running. Not stealing bases—base running. Base running is the most intricate part of baseball. Offensively, statistics in baseball are misleading. There's not enough emphasis placed on runs scored. You win games by scoring runs.
"In Cleveland, you just sat on the bench and waited for someone to slug the ball. I like being in the ball game. I like playing in a big ball park like Comiskey Park. It's more interesting baseball. A manager has a better chance in a big park where he can maneuver a little, take advantage of anything. In a small park, you don't take any chances, steal, hit and run. In a small park, you just bang away." Lopez admits, however, that good hit-and-run men are perhaps an even rarer breed than the mighty sluggers. "I've been in baseball 40 years, and I've only seen four or five." he says. "Billy Herman, Tony Cuccinello, Alvin Dark, Dick Groat. It's tough enough to connect when you get your pitch, and downright ridiculous to have to swing at whatever comes up there.
"We don't work on a lot of trick plays. The fans say, 'Why don't you squeeze?' What do you think the other manager's getting paid for? There is no offense for which there isn't a defense. Everything you do must be with a purpose. We have squeezed—Billy Martin squeezed Jim Rivera home on two strikes against Bobby Shantz.
"A janitor at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago used to send me his advice in eight-page airmail special delivery letters. He once suggested I have Sherm Lollar and Walt Dropo, who were two of the slowest men in baseball, execute a delayed double steal against the Yankees. 'This play can only be pulled once,' he wrote. 'If it works, it'll disrupt everybody.' In fact, it would have disrupted baseball. He wanted me to use voice signs instead of hand signs. 'Chain gang' was steal, I remember. 'Orange juice' was squeeze. He was a good fan, at that.
"The fans want you to bunt all the time. I don't like to bunt until it gets to be the seventh, eighth or ninth, when one run looks pretty good. In the first few innings you've got a chance to get an inning going. Bill McKechnie, who I played for at Boston, was a great believer in pitching and defense. He'd play for one run earlier than most managers, try to get a run ahead of you and play the infield in. I go with who's up in the batting order. Say, the sixth hitter is on third with one out, I'll play the infield in. Otherwise I'll give them the run. Once, in Baltimore, I played the infield in when I was two runs to the good. It was the fifth or sixth inning. Willie Miranda and the pitcher were coming up. In a short ball park, you couldn't do that. In fact, I don't think there are very many managers who'd do it at all.
"They say you never play to tie on the road. When I'm playing the weaker clubs on the road I always play to tie. You have a better chance to beat them that way. They say pitchers should try to keep the ball low. I don't think that should apply to every pitcher. I think a real good high fast ball is better in many instances. How about Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove? You shouldn't handicap a guy with a good high fast ball.
"I think speed counts more in the outfield than in the infield. In the infield a ground ball can only be a single; out there it can be a double or a triple. The right fielder has to be quick and have a stronger arm than the center fielder, otherwise they'll go from first to third on you all the time. The center fielder can hold them with a weaker arm because the throw is shorter, but he has to be good on judging flies. The left fielder, third baseman and first baseman can be big, clumsy guys. If the center fielder is catching the ball, I want the left fielder to tell him where to throw it, or, if he's in right center, the right fielder.
"I move my outfielders around quite a lot. The count is the big thing here. Give him the line, I might say, he doesn't pull. But if the count is 2 and 0 or 3 and 1, he's going to pull the ball more, and a right-hander is more apt to pull a sinker ball, a left-hander is more apt to pull a curve. So then I move my fielder a little closer toward the line. I always explain my reasoning to my outfielders. Otherwise they're apt to think I'm crazy."
Although Lopez contends that baseball is played better than ever, he is puzzled by the decline of the .300 hitters. "It's a mystery," he says. "It mystifies you. The players are bigger, they're better coordinated. What's happened? Years ago there was a guy named Jigger Statz playing center field and leading off for Brooklyn. He hit .285 and was a terrific fielder. They sent him back to the minors. They said Jigger Statz couldn't hit. In 1932 I hit .275 and caught 126 games for Brooklyn, and they tried to cut me $3,000. Today I'd get a $10,000 raise.
"They had good pitchers in those days—Alexander, Lefty Grove, Herb Pen-nock, Johnson—and still the hitters hit .400. I think night baseball might have a lot to do with it. It was impossible to fire for nine innings on those hot days in St. Louis and Cincinnati, so the pitchers would have to pace themselves. Nowadays, if you don't watch them, around the seventh or eighth innings the pitchers start getting tired. They go all out from the first pitch. Dizzy Dean, Burleigh Grimes, no one on, they'd pace themselves. If Dizzy Dean wasn't bearing down, you could hit him. It was impossible to bear down all the time. But with men on base, they'd rare back and throw the ball.
"I think the hitters are going to have to change. They're striking out too much. They swing just as hard on the third pitch as on the first. After you get a strike or two—meet the ball. I think they could use a heavier bat, too, concentrate on making contact. They'd still get their home runs. People get tired of people swinging from the heels, hitting the wall, over the fence. We suggest it to our players, but it's hard enough for them just to go up there and hit the ball. I don't think there'll ever be another hitter breaking .400 unless the hitters change their tactics. I'd like to see the hitter hit the ball more often. As long as you hit it someone's got to make a play on you. If you strike out you take something out of the game. After all, what we're doing is trying to sell entertainment. The triple, for instance, is the prettiest hit in baseball; everybody chasing the ball, the runner diving into the bag, and I think the double play is the prettiest play in baseball."
When he was growing up in Ybor City, Lopez was a catcher, pitcher and shortstop. "I wanted to be in action all the time," he says. "I thought the outfield was a waste of time." Lopez finally settled on catching; a lump on the right side of his nose testifies to the fact that he could not afford a mask; in fact, all he had was a catcher's mitt. "I couldn't come home until my nose had stopped bleeding," Lopez recalls. "My mother would have given me a shellacking." On occasion, Lopez caught without a chest protector in the big leagues, on account of the heat.
When he was 16 Lopez was Walter Johnson's catcher in an exhibition game in Tampa. Lopez still remembers Johnson's pregame instructions: "Kid, don't call for too many curve balls. I'm going to let them hit. Be alert. I'm going to bear down on Ike Boone and Jack Fournier." Lopez says, in a voice that still retains some of the old wonder, "He struck them out both times in the five innings he pitched. I got a triple that day—one for three."
That year, 1925, Lopez started his life's work in organized baseball with the old Tampa Smokers of the Florida State League. In 1930 he went up to the majors to stay. He played for Brooklyn through 1935, Boston until 1940 and Pittsburgh through 1946. In 1947, his final season as a big league player, he was with Cleveland. Lopez managed for three years at Indianapolis (typically, he won a pennant and finished second twice) before returning to the Indians in 1951 as manager. When Lopez left Cleveland in 1956, his players chipped in $400 to buy him a golf bag and a set of clubs. Most departing managers are doing all right if they get a handshake. "Lopez said we should have given the money to the clubhouse boy, who wasn't making too much," Sam Mele recalls.
As a big league player, Lopez caught 1,918 games in 18 seasons—a major league record. With Gabby Hartnett, he also holds the National League record for having caught 100 or more games in 12 seasons. In 1941 he tied a National League record by not allowing a passed ball in 114 games. According to the best estimate—his reluctant own—Lopez dropped only two foul pops in his long career. His lifetime baiting average, however, was only .262.
"Al was an outstanding, first-class catcher as a receiver," says Stengel. "All the players liked him. So did the manager—me." Lopez played for Stengel both at Brooklyn and Boston. "His best asset was any man that wandered around third base or second was going to be out." Once, at Boston, with a 3 and 0 count on the batter, Lopez called for a pitchout and picked the runner off third.
"Al was very good at handling the bunt," Stengel goes on, "what we call the swinging bunt. He was nimble and never tired. Why, I remember once when he went into a slump at Boston, you know what snapped him out? Catching a 23-inning game, something like that. He could squat down low out there all day, 23 innings, doubleheaders, it made no difference to Al."
"Al was basically slow over a distance of ground, but no one had as fast a set of hands," says Red Patterson, a Dodger official who covered Brooklyn as a writer in Lopez' era. "I remember one day in Pittsburgh. It was raining. We were sitting in the clubhouse, waiting out the umpires to see who was right, the weatherman or them. Lopez challenged someone to try and bounce a ball by him. They cleared a space across the clubhouse, and they tried, but they couldn't get a ball past him, and he was using a catcher's mitt!"
"Most catchers, when they know a batter has decided to take a pitch, just wait for the ball to pop into their mitt," says Stengel. "Not Lopez. He'd flip his glove out toward the ball and get it four or five inches earlier in the strike zone. There was nobody as good at stealing strikes as Al. One day Billy Herman decided to take the pitch, and Al moved out to steal the strike. Suddenly Billy remembered the hit-and-run was on, and threw his bat at the ball. The bat caught Al's right thumb and bent it back double. It was hanging on only by the skin. I got sick. I figured he was through as a catcher. But those Boston surgeons put it together, kept taking it in and out of the cast and he was O.K. again."