Hector Lopez, the primary Black manager at the very best level of minor league baseball and one among the last living members of the early Nineteen Sixties Yankees dynasty, playing outfield alongside Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, died on Thursday. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by his son Darrol Lopez, who said he died of complications from lung cancer at a hospital in Hudson, Fla.
A native of Panama, Lopez was one among the primary Black players for the Yankees, appearing in five consecutive World Series. He was the very essence of a utility player, a capable nonstar who filled in as an infielder and an outfielder wherever there was a necessity.
Within the fifth and final game of the 1961 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he smashed a house run and a triple and drove in five runs in a 13-5 victory.
Lopez was released by the Yankees after the 1966 season, during which the team finished tenth and last, ending his 12-year playing profession with a .269 average and 136 home runs. He played within the minor leagues for a few seasons, hoping to return to the majors, but as an alternative, in 1969, he was named manager of the Buffalo Bisons, then the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers).
A Recent York Times headline read: “Hector Lopez Slides Safely Into Buffalo as First Negro Pro Baseball Pilot.” Lopez, lacking a star pedigree or much experience in coaching, was an unlikely trailblazer. George Vecsey, the longtime columnist, wrote that as an aging minor league player in Buffalo, Lopez was “a helpful senior citizen to Washington Senator farmhands” and got the job because he was “in the best place at the best time and by wanting the job.”
“Good for Hector,” Elston Howard, the primary Black Yankees player, said. “That is a very good break for him.”
Lopez led the Bisons for only one season. It could be six more years before Frank Robinson would turn into the primary Black manager in the massive leagues, with the Cleveland Indians.
Over a 12-year profession that began with the Kansas City Athletics in 1955, Lopez played every position on the sector except pitcher and catcher, though it may very well be argued that his versatility wasn’t entirely a strength.
Playing in an era before the designated hitter, he was generally known as a solid hitter who was iffy with the glove regardless of where he played and, in response to Vecsey, he was generally known as Hector “What a Pair of Hands” Lopez, due to his “exciting duels with ground balls.”
In Kansas City, where he was mostly an infielder, he hit 67 home runs but made 116 errors in only over 4 seasons. After he was acquired by the Yankees, together with the pitcher Ralph Terry, early within the 1959 season, he played mostly outfield, where he would presumably do less damage, but did little to dispel his fame as a poor fielder.
His first yr in Recent York, he made 17 errors in 76 games at third base (and three more within the outfield); nevertheless, he hit .283 with 16 homers for the Yanks, and including his time with Kansas City, drove in 93 runs for the 1959 season. His latest manager, Casey Stengel, described Lopez, “a person which batted in 93 runs,” as a conundrum: “If I bench him I bench 93 runs, but I would love higher fieldin’ outta my 93 runs.”
This was the beginning of a dynastic period for the Yankees — from 1960-64, they were American League champions every yr, capturing the World Series in 1961 and 1962 — and Lopez often played in the identical outfield with the star sluggers Mantle and Maris or substituted when one or the opposite was injured, a not infrequent occurrence.
Living in Brooklyn during his early Yankee years, as a sign of each the times and his secondary role on the team, he commuted to work within the Bronx on the subway, largely without being recognized. In eight years as a Yankee, he hit .262, respectable for a utility man, but he was higher within the postseason, hitting .286 in 15 World Series games.
Hector Headley Lopez Swainson was born on July 8, 1929, in Colon, Panama, where his father, a salesman, was a pitcher in local leagues. Young Hector graduated from an English-speaking highschool and for some time studied auto mechanics and worked in a bowling alley.
He played in amateur and skilled leagues in Panama before a scout spotted him and signed him to play for knowledgeable team in Quebec that might eventually turn into affiliated with the Athletics. Lopez played 4 minor league seasons and a part of a fifth before becoming the regular third baseman for a hapless Kansas City club that had recently relocated from Philadelphia.
Lopez lived for a few years on Long Island, where he worked for the parks department in Hempstead and for a time coached highschool baseball. Later, he and his wife, the previous Claudette Joyce Brown, whom he married in 1960, moved to Hudson, Fla., near Tampa, and he served as a scout, a coach and a minor league instructor for the Yankees. He returned to managing briefly to steer the Yankees’ Rookie-level team in 1994 and 1995 (where Darryl Strawberry played his first games with the Yankees organization).
“Just having the ability to play in the massive leagues for so long as I did on the time that I played is something I’m pleased with,” Lopez said in an interview for the 2002 book “That Was A part of Baseball Then,” by Victor Debs Jr. “There was a whole lot of competition, a whole lot of great players throughout the ’50s and ’60s. Plus the undeniable fact that there weren’t that many Black ballplayers at the moment. Especially within the American League. So I assume you’ll be able to say I made essentially the most out of my opportunities.”
Vimal Patel contributed reporting.