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HALL OF FAMER PRAISES AN ANGEL : Boone Catches Lopez as No. 1 in a Crouch

September 15, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

The Angels have invited Al Lopez to Anaheim next week to help Bob Boone celebrate his ascension to the No. 1 spot on baseball's all-time list of games caught.

Boone is expected to catch his 1,918th game in Kansas City tonight, tying Lopez for that top spot.

Now 79 and a resident of Tampa, Fla., Lopez said by phone that he wasn't sure his schedule would allow him to accept the Angels' invitation. He plays golf four or five times a week at nearby Palma-Ceia Country Club, followed by a couple hours of cards.

A cross-country flight would disrupt that routine, but Lopez doesn't want anyone thinking he would snub Boone.

"I'm tickled to death for Boonie," Lopez said. "I've known him since he was a toddler running after his father in our clubhouse in Cleveland. His mom and dad are among the nicest people in the world, and he's obviously been one of the best catchers ever. I think he'll easily catch another couple of years."

Ray Boone, Bob's father, was the third baseman at Cleveland in 1951, '52 and part of '53, when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Lopez managed the Indians from 1951 to 1956, then managed the White Sox for parts of 11 more seasons. His teams compiled a .581 winning percentage--he won a pennant with the Indians in 1954 and with the White Sox in '59--earning Lopez a niche in the Hall of Fame.

He had previously caught 1,918 games in 19 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and Indians, retiring after the 1947 season at 39 to accept a managerial job with Indianapolis in Pittsburgh's minor league chain.

Now Boone, at age 39 and in his 16th season, is about to tie Lopez in games caught. Like Lopez, Boone eventually is expected to manage, perhaps when the Angels' Gene Mauch retires.

Is catcher baseball's most demanding position?

Lopez responded affirmatively, then added: "What most people forget is that it takes a lot more than being durable. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of your pitchers, and they have to have confidence in you. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing batters, and your manager has to be convinced you can run the game. What I'm saying is that the catcher is different because he has to be able to satisfy a lot of people.

"Boone is good at it or his manager wouldn't be catching him 140 games a year," Lopez said. "He couldn't have played this long without those leadership and defensive skills. He's smooth. There's nothing herky-jerky about him. He has a good body and works at it. I also think he's benefited by the fact that he was a third baseman at Stanford and didn't really start to catch a lot until he got to the big leagues. I caught for five years in the minors before I ever reached the big leagues. That took a toll at the other end."

Boone, a devotee of the martial arts, has survived a series of knee operations in sustaining a career that the Philadelphia Phillies suspected was over when he was sold to the Angels before the 1982 season.

He has since rewritten the record book by catching 140 or more games in four of his six seasons with the Angels. He will catch about 120 games this year, having failed to sign until May 1.

At a time when the schedule generally consisted of 154 games, Lopez never caught more than 140 and only twice caught 130 or more. He caught 57 in his final season with the Indians, as a backup to Jim Hegan. Did he demand to play or be traded?

"I was just happy to have a job," Lopez said, laughing. "We didn't do that kind of thing then. Hegan was an outstanding catcher. Bill Veeck owned the club and wanted me to come back in the same capacity, and maybe I should have because the Indians won the pennant and World Series the next year.

"I'm sure I could have caught another year or two, but I wanted to stay in baseball as a coach or manager and I had that offer to manage Indianapolis. It had also gotten tougher keeping my timing and rhythm catching just once or twice a week.

"I had a conversation with Jim Sundberg (the Chicago Cubs' catcher who is now sixth on the all-time list) at the Hall of Fame a couple years ago, and he asked me if he should start cutting back, and I told him that he should catch as many games as he could for as long as he could because it's easier when you're catching regularly and have that rhythm."

Lopez, who had a career batting average of .261 (Boone's is .251), said he was periodically sidelined by broken fingers but couldn't recall teams' disabled lists being as congested as they are now.

"I think the multi-year contracts have something to do with it," he said. "Maybe the motivation isn't there. We went year to year. I mean, the players are supposed to be bigger and stronger now but every club has five or six guys on the disabled list. Each league may have had only five or six on that list when I played.

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