#CardCorner: 1976 Topps Davey Lopes
But Davey Lopes never stopped believing he would make it to the big leagues. And despite needing until his age-28 season to become a MLB regular, Lopes carved out a 16-year playing career that made him one of his era’s most versatile players.
“The first day I ran out onto the field in Dodger Stadium was such a great high,” Lopes said. “I had achieved something I had dreamed of my whole life.”
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Born May 3, 1945, in East Providence, R.I., Lopes’ stated goal as a youth – as early has his days in parochial school – was to become a big leaguer. But at 5-foot-9, he attracted little attention from scouts and battled poverty throughout his youth.
One of 10 children, Lopes had no memory of his father, who passed away when Lopes was a child.
“I had one glove until I got into high school,” Lopes told the Los Angeles Times.
Earning a chance to play college hoops in Kansas, Lopes also played baseball for the Ichabods – and remained at the school even when a tornado in June of 1966 destroyed many of the building on the Washburn University campus. He was selected by the Giants in the eighth round of the June 1967 MLB Draft, but opted to return to school to finish his education degree.
The Dodgers then took Lopes in the second round of the January 1968 draft and quickly converted him from an outfielder to a second baseman, sending him to Class A Daytona Beach of the Florida State League that summer. But Lopes did not attend Spring Training in either 1968 or 1969 as he worked to finish his degree.
“I had more of a passion for basketball than I did for baseball back then,” Lopes told the Journal Times in Racine, Wis., of his high school days. “Growing up in New England, that was the game you played. But being of diminutive size, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere with basketball.”
Lopes hit .247 in 82 games in 1968, stealing 26 bases and scoring 39 runs. He returned to Daytona Beach in 1969, where he raised his average to .280 while recording 32 steals.
In the pivotal Game 4, the Dodgers trailed 4-0 and 6-3 before Jay Johnstone’s home run cut the deficit to 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth. Following Johnstone’s homer, Lopes reached base on an error charged to Yankees right fielder Reggie Jackson, hustling into second base on the play. After stealing third, Lopes scored on Bill Russell’s single to tie the game – a contest Los Angeles went on to win 8-7 to tie the series at two games apiece.
Los Angeles would win the championship in six games.
Lopes committed six errors in the series, which generated plenty of headlines. But despite the miscues, veteran columnist Jim Murray was among many observers who thought Lopes should have been named the series MVP.
The World Series, however, would be Lopes swan song in Los Angeles. With top prospect Steve Sax coming off an MVP season in the Texas League for Double-A San Antonio in 1981, the Dodgers broke up their veteran infield – sending Lopes to the Athletics in exchange for minor leaguer Lance Hudson on Feb. 8, 1982.
“I wanted to go to a team where I was wanted,” Lopes – who allowed the trade despite being a 10-and-5 player who could have blocked it – told United Press International.
With three years remaining on his contract, Lopes – who was soon to turn 37 – appeared to have plenty left in the tank. He hit .242 with 28 steals in 1982, then played in 147 games in 1983, hitting .277 with 17 homers, 67 RBI and 22 steals. But the A’s traded him to the Cubs on Aug. 31, 1984, as Chicago chased the pennant, and Lopes made just one plate appearance in the NLCS as the Cubs lost to the Padres in five games.
Lopes bounced back with a fine season off the bench in 1985, stealing 47 bases in 99 games for the Cubs while hitting .284. He split the 1986 season between Chicago and Houston, then appeared in 47 games with the Astros in 1987 before ending his career.
Lopes soon transitioned into his second career, coaching for the Orioles and Padres during the 1990s before being hired as the Brewers manager prior to the 2000 season. He skippered the Brewers for two full seasons before being dismissed early in the 2002 campaign, then returned to the coaching ranks with the Padres, Nationals, Phillies and Dodgers through the 2017 season.
In 16 big league seasons as a player, Lopes hit .263 with 1,023 runs scored, 1,671 hits, 155 home runs and 557 steals in 671 attempts. His success rate of 83.0 percent is the third-best of all-time among players with at least 400 steals, trailing only Tim Raines and Willie Wilson.
“A lot of people are now saying they knew I’d make it, that I wouldn’t end up on the streets,” Lopes told the L.A. Times as he was establishing himself at the big league level during the 1973 season. “That’s funny. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who really believed that.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum