Thursday, December 8, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #91 Davey Lopes

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

Under my highly complex personal grudge rules and in normal circumstances, I should loathe Davey Lopes.  As a player he was critical part of the Los Angeles Dodgers teams that destroyed my childhood dreams of a Phillies world series celebration in consecutive seasons.

Phillies Phans over the age of 40 remember it as "Black Friday".  It was the 1977 NLCS Game #3 at the Vet. The Phillies held a 5-3 lead with two outs in the ninth, ready to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. But a single and a double and error made it 5-4, with the tying run on third and Lopes coming to the plate. He hit a grounder that took a bad hop off third baseman Mike Schmidt, but Larry Bowa alertly fielded the ball and threw to a strike to first.  Replays indicated the throw beat the runner, but umpire Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe. He eventually came around to score the winning run, and the Dodgers wrapped up the series the next day.

The next season Lopes continued to torture me after he hit a back-breaking home run in the first game of the 1978 NLCS and then had the audacity to drive in 3 runs in the second game. Thanks to their pesky leadoff hitter, Dodgers took an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the series, closing it out in the fourth game on Garry Maddox's infamous walk off error.

He didn't make it to the majors until he was 27 years old. But once Davey Lopes arrived, he stayed. Teaming up with Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey for over eight years, the longest running infield grouping in history.

As a base stealer Davey had few peers. In 1975, Lopes swiped 38 consecutive bases without being caught, setting a major league record. As a member of the 1982 A's,  he stole 28 bases to go along with Ricky Henderson's record smashing 130 to set a new mark for teammates. For the 1985 Cubs, he stole 47... the age of 40. His 557 career stolen bases place him 25th all-time, but his success rate of 83.01% (557 steals in only 671 attempts) ranks 3rd-best all time among players with 400 or more career stolen bases (behind Tim Raines and Willie Wilson). The man was a master thief.

It would be a lie for me to not admit the real admiration I have for Davey Lopes stems from what he did as a Phillies coach from 2007 to 2010. Well known for his clinical study of opposing pitchers and his scientific use of a stop-watch, the current generation of Phillies players have benefitted greatly from his judgement and expertise. In each of his Lopes' three seasons with the club, the Phillies led the majors in stolen base percentage, including the best in MLB history in 2007 – 87.9% (138-for-157).

These days it is sad to see him in the first base coaches box back in a Dodgers uniform, but my appreciation for him as a player and coach won't ever go away.


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