Panamanian Hero

Hector Lopez became first Panama native to start in the big leagues

October 13, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

By Amanda Rodriguez 

Hector Lopez broke barriers on and off the field in a big league career that saw him become a national hero in his home country of Panama. 

Before making a name for himself with the great New York Yankees teams of the early 1960s, Lopez established himself as the first ever Panamanian starter in the major leagues. This was achieved in 1955 when Lopez joined the Kansas City Athletics. 

Lopez was a regular infielder for four full seasons with the A’s, averaging 61 RBI per season from 1955-58 before coming the Yankees in a midseason trade in 1959. Lopez put together his best season that year with 22 home runs and 93 RBI, then spent the next seven years as the Yankees’ super sub. 

Lopez struggled with the glove as an infielder, and starting in 1960 he spent most of his time in the outfield. 

Playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, Lopez was a five-time pennant winner with the Yankees and ended his 12-year career with a .269 lifetime average. He was part of two World Series-winning teams (1961-62), hitting .286 in 15 postseason games – including seven RBI in the 1961 Fall Classic against the Reds. 

Following his playing career – which ended in 1966 – Lopez became the first dark-skinned manager of a Triple-A team, taking over the Buffalo Bisons of the International League in 1969.

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Amanda Rodriguez was a membership intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.

For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here