Over nearly two decades one of baseball’s most dependable backstop, Al López built a reputation that anyone would admire.
But it was López’s second baseball career – as a manager – that cemented his place as a legend of the game.
Beginning at age 16, when he signed with the Class D team in his hometown of Tampa, López displayed his skills as a consistent defensive catcher who showed an impressive ability to handle pitchers. López played 1,918 games behind the plate during 19 seasons with the Brooklyn, Boston, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, setting a major league record for games caught that stood for 40 years.
After his playing days were over, López managed at Triple-A Indianapolis before being named manager of the Indians in 1951. Under López’s leadership, Cleveland averaged 95 wins per season – including 111 wins during the 1954 campaign. López and the Indians claimed the American League pennant that season – one of only two instances in the 1950s when the pennant was not won by the New York Yankees.
Upon taking over the White Sox in 1957, López transitioned from an Indians club stacked with power hitters such as Larry Doby and Vic Wertz to a ball club that had relied on speed and defense. Known in the clubhouse for his calm demeanor, López was aggressive with his managing tactics and urged his players to run at every opportunity. López recognized that his team, featuring smaller, faster players like Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio and Minnie Miñoso, could use its speed and defensive skills to win games at the White Sox’s cavernous Comiskey Park.
“If you don’t let them score that run – and you score that run – you win,” López said.
In 1957, the White Sox led the league with 109 stolen bases and earned their famous “Go Go Sox” nickname with their hustle. But a late-season fade dropped Chicago to a second place finish in the American League behind the New York Yankees.
It was a position López was all too familiar with, after his teams had finished second to Casey Stengel’s Yankees in six of his first seven years as a manager. But López remained confident that the team he was building in Chicago could be the foil to the Yankees’ dominance.
“Nobody can beat the Yankees on power,” López said. “They can have the power; we’ll take the glory.”
The White Sox finished second again in 1958 but put it all together in 1959. López’s team hit only 97 home runs as a team but led the American League with 113 stolen bases, 46 triples and a 3.29 earned-run average. Most importantly, they beat the Yankees 13-9 in the season series on their way to capturing the 1959 AL pennant. The White Sox then fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers, four games to two, in the World Series.
López continued to manage the White Sox until 1965, when he retired due to a chronic stomach condition. He came back for short stints on the Chicago bench in 1968 and 1969 before retiring for good.
López left the game with a .584 career winning percentage – one of four managers to exceed the .580 mark after managing at least 2,200 games. In 15 full seasons as a skipper, López’s teams never posted a losing record and finished lower than second place just three times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
López passed away on Oct. 30, 2005.