TAMPA, Fla. — That little 3-year-old boy who used to run around the Cleveland locker room is about to re-enter the life of Al Lopez.
The Angels' Bob Boone, whose father, Ray, was managed by Lopez at Cleveland 36 years ago, is closing in on one of baseball's most impressive durability records. When Lopez retired as a player in 1947, he had caught in 1,918 games, a mark that Boone will soon surpass.
"I don't regret the record being broken, no way," said Lopez, 79, after playing a round of golf despite 92-degree heat. "I especially don't mind losing it to a boy like this boy. Boone catches real smooth and he should catch for a few more years. I remember him as a little boy hanging around the ballpark while I was managing his daddy."
Lopez averaged .261 in his 19 years in the major leagues, catching 100 or more games 12 times. When he turned to managing, the results were even more remarkable, leading to his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1977. In his 15 full seasons as major-league manager with the Indians and White Sox, Lopez won two pennants and placed second 10 times.
"Records are a big thing today, probably because of TV," says Lopez. "We didn't pay much attention to them in my day. When I retired, nobody mentioned anything about me having caught the most games. To catch as many games as me and Boone, you've got to want to play baseball, you've gotta like it. Then, you must be a good defensive catcher.
"I thought Johnny Bench would break my record, but his legs went on him. You've got to stay away from injuries."
Stay away? One look at the crooked fingers on the right hand of Lopez and it's evident he will never administer piano lessons.
"See these fingers? Every one has been broken," Lopez says, "and two different foul balls split my right hand open. I remember Billy Herman checking his swing and ticking the ball off his bat. The ball came back and busted my right thumb -- the bone was sticking out. With my right hand dragging behind me, I walked toward our dugout and Casey Stengel, our manager, asked me what was wrong. I told him, 'Casey, you don't want to see it ... I don't even want to look at it.'
"He told me to let him see the thumb, so I stuck it out at him; I can still see him starting to puke right on the field."
Lopez is not enthralled with the theatrics displayed by some modern catchers, preferring the subtle approach favored by Boone and Jim Sundberg.
"Those two guys are smooth, nothing fancy," he says. "Some guys today are flashy as hell. I'm very happy for Boone because he catches in the right style.
"Timing is a big part of catching and the toughest thing is to catch only one or two times a week. I saw Sundberg a few years ago and told him the day he stops being the regular catcher is the day he's in trouble."
Few weeks have gone by in the 1987 season without a beanball incident, but Lopez says batters are merely overreacting to the game within the game.
"We had plenty of balls thrown at batters in my day, too, only we didn't wear hard hats back then," Lopez says. "They threw at you and I guarantee that if you said something to the pitcher, you'd be going down again. Sure, I called for knockdown pitches when I was a catcher. If a guy is hitting a pitcher too good, you've got to let them know. That was no big issue in my day. Throwing at you was expected.
"When Rogers Hornsby was managing, he had an automatic $50 fine for any pitcher ahead in the count 0-2 who didn't knock the batter down with the next pitch. I can remember when $50 was a lot of money. You'd better believe those pitchers followed orders."