November 18, 2017

It All Started With Al Lopez

June 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Recently the modest Ybor City ancestral home of Alfonso Ramon Lopez – Al Lopez as he was known as player and manager – was up-rooted and moved about a mile, where it will become the Tampa Baseball Hall of Fame.

It is richly appropriate that the baseball history of Tampa be housed in the Lopez home. Al Lopez was the talent-rich area’s first to reach the Major Leagues, and in a sense the area’s Jackie Robinson. Latin players had made it to the Majors before him, but they were far from welcomed and not embraced as they are today.

Lopez was a durable, savvy catcher who enjoyed a 19-year career, then transitioned smoothly to the manager’s role, which he did with great success for another 22 years. In all a career that earned him Hall of Fame induction in 1977.

The city of Tampa has been a deep pool of baseball talent. Some 75 Tampa-born players have been to the Majors. Many of course were of the proverbial ‘cup of coffee’ variety. But many were genuine big-timers, All Stars and Hall of Famers.

Consider a roster that would include Derek Bell, Wade Boggs, Steve Garvey, Lou Gonzalez, Doc Gooden, Matt Joyce, Dave Magadan, Lance McCullers, Tino Martinez, Fred McGriff, Jody Reed, Gary Sheffield and Ozzie Timmons, to name a few. And the manager? How about a choice between Lopez, Lou Piniella and Tony LaRussa. Lopez and Piniella had distinguished playing careers and could easily be named on this Tampa All-Star team as players.

And LaRussa, were it not for a debilitating shoulder injury (throwing arm), would likely have had a nice career as a player as well. But as managers, the trio of Lopez, Piniella and LaRussa were extraordinary: a combined 77 years, nearly 6,000 wins (.540 combined winning percentage), 10 pennants and 5 World Series championships.

Has any city of comparable size produced as much playing and managerial talent? Can such a modest museum contain such a treasure of baseball history?

And it all started with Lopez.

David Alfonso is a former Tampa area sports writer. He played football for Tampa Plant High School where he rushed for 100 yards against Steve Garvey’s team.

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