“Do what you love to do and give it your very best. Whether it’s business or baseball, or the theater, or any field. If you don’t love what you’re doing and you can’t give it your best, get out of it. Life is too short. You’ll be an old man before you know it.” – Al Lopez
I decided to dedicate my most recent trip to Tampa, Florida, to Al Lopez, a native son of the city. According to his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as the manager of the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox from 1951 to 1965 Lopez was the “only manager to interrupt the Yankees’ pennant dynasty of 1949 – 1964.” That makes him a hero in my book.
Al’s parents immigrated from Asturias, Spain, to Cuba, and then to the Ybor City community in Tampa where his father worked in a cigar factory. Alfonso Ramon Lopez was born in Ybor City in August 1908. He attended Jesuit High School in Tampa until the age of 16, when he became a catcher for the Tampa Smokers of the Class-D Florida State League. As the story goes, he impressed the Senators’ great Walter Johnson during an exhibition game and his minor league career took off.
Al signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1928 and by 1930 was their starting catcher. He played for the Dodgers until 1935, then for the Boston Bees (1936-1940), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940-1946), and Cleveland Indians (1947). He next managed the Indians (1951-1956) and the Chicago White Sox (1957-1965, 1968-1969). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
The city of Tampa has always been proud of their hometown boy. In 1951, when he became manager of the Cleveland Indians, the city honored him with a parade. In 1954, the city built a new Spring Training ballpark for the Chicago White Sox. It was named Al Lopez Field. Following Al’s death in 2005, the Florida Legislature designated April 20, 2006, as Al Lopez Day and dedicated the 2006 Spring Training season to his memory.
Lopez’ influence on the city of Tampa can still be seen today. Tomorrow, I’ll take you through my recent trip to Tampa and the many places honoring his legacy.
To be continued …