I did not appreciate Davey Lopes enough when he was our 2nd baseman. This is my attempt to right that wrong.
I've disliked Davey Lopes since 1973 for for two reasons.
The first was because he had the audacity to win the 2nd base job in 1973 over Lee Lacy. Lee Lacy had captured my 14 year old fancy when he made his MLB debut in 1972 on June 30th. Back then they only televised Sunday away games so it was not until his 9th game that I got to see him in action. He had three hits against HOF Tom Seaver, and from that point on he would become one of my favorite Dodgers. Lacy would start at 2nd the rest of the season until a 27 year old journeyman 2nd baseman showed up on Sept 22nd and proceeded to start the rest of the season.
As the Dodgers went into spring training I think everyone at the time felt that Lee Lacy would be the Dodger 2nd baseman for the next decade. He had jumped from AA to the major leagues and looked like the man for the job. Sure Davey Lopes was in camp and it was a competition but the man hadn't even made his major league debut until he was 27. What could he possibly offer the team over the line drives of Lee Lacy?
Turns out he could offer plenty. Davey Lopes ticked off this writer by winning that job and then keeping that job from 1973 - 1981. What is remarkable about Lopes is just like Maury Wills he didn't get started until most elite players have already been around for four - five years. He was converted from the outfield to 2nd base, and after laboring in AAA for three years became an integral piece to the most famous infield in LA Dodger history (make that baseball history).
The 2nd was because I admired Jim Bouton the famed writer of Ball Four. In 1978 Bouton decided to attempt a comeback simply because he still loved the game and wanted to pitch. In the first game back the Braves were playing the Dodgers and Lopes hit a home run against him, and then proceeded to hold his arm over his head as he circled the bases in contempt of Bouton. I don't know what to say but I hated him for that showboating.
Drafted in the 2nd round of the famous 1968 draft with the 26th pick he was already 23 years old when he played his first professional game. Davey Lopes was not a friendly player. He did not cater to fans like Steve Garvey, and he didn't catch the fans imagination like the Penguin. He may have been a part of the most famous infield since Tinkers to Evers to Chance trio but he always seemed to be the after thought. No false hustle from Davey Lopes, he rarely if ever dived for a ground ball, explaining that if he had to dive the runner was going to be safe so what was the point. Fans didn't quite agree and watching 2nd baseman sprawl and throw out runners made me wonder about his logic. As I said, I didn't like Lopes.
One can dislike a player and still appreciate him, and Davey Lopes did so much for the Dodgers during his era you had to appreciate him. His greatest skill was the stolen base and not because he accumulated stolen bases but because he did it with deadly efficiency. In his career he stole 555 bases and was only caught 114 times. While with the Dodgers he stole 418 bases and was only caught 83 times ( 83% success rate). To put that into perspective Maury Wills was caught 170 times while stealing 590 bases. Willie Davis was caught 116 times while only stealing 335 bases. In 1975 Lopes stole 38 straight bases which at the time was the modern day record. Davey Lopes was the greatest base stealer in Los Angeles Dodger history, not Maury Wills.
Below is the table of the greatest stolen base artists since 1958. Only 15 have had a success rate of over 80% when having stolen 300 or more bases. Davey Lopes is an elite class of thief.
The thing about the chart below. Eric Davis and Barry Larkin played on the same team and they both were the most complete player you could ask for. Speed, power, patience, defensive skill at a skilled position. Eric Davis had injuries which sapped his career but even more then Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin is a HOF player.
Now you don't get to be in the Lords of the Ravine simply by being the best in one category. Davey Lopes did not just steal bases, he did many things well.
- Hit 99 home runs to lead all Los Angeles Dodger 2nd baseman. Jeff Kent is 2nd with 75.
- Scored 759 runs to lead all Los Angeles Dodger 2nd baseman by over 200
- Walked 603 times to lead all Los Angeles Dodger 2nd baseman by over 300 walks
- Four time All-Star
- Hit 28 home runs in 1979 which by the way was more then Joe Morgan ever hit. From 1958 - 1981 his 28 home runs the 3rd most ever hit. Since then the league has been swallowed up by big 2nd baseman but at the time, 28 home runs by a 2nd baseman was big news.
- Was a solid lead off hitter. Had a great walk rate but his OB suffered due to his very average average. An OB of .349 during his Dodger career and .352 as a lead off hitter.
- Was the star of the 1978 postseason and did everything he could do to bring the Dodgers a World Series. In the NLCS he had an OPS of 1.278 with 16 total bases in 18 plate appearances. In the World Series he was even better when he slugged three home runs and drove in 7 runs. The single best offensive World Series performance by a Los Angeles Dodger. Charlie Neal in 1959, Ron Fairly in 1965, and Ron Cey with Pedro in 81 all great offensive World Series and all in a winning cause but none of them ever hit 3 home runs and drove in 7 rbi's. If the Dodgers had won the 78 Series would Davey Lopes have a different legacy?
- On August 20, 1974, Lopes hit three home runs, a double, and a single for 15 total bases. That was the LA Dodger record until Shawn Green hit four home runs over 25 years later.
- The baseball page ranks Davey Lopes as the 24 best 2nd baseman in baseball history. Interesting info, Garvey, Lopes, and Cey played together from 1974 - 1981 and according the www.baseballpage all three of them were the 23-24th best at their position in the history of baseball. Now that is an infield.
- The great moustache as chronicled by Josh Wilker
- For most of his career he was overshadowed by a peer who many consider the best 2nd baseman to ever play the game. Everything Davey Lopes could do well, Joe Morgan could do better, sometimes much better. Except stolen bases, Davey Lopes might win the argument as the best base stealer between the two of them.
Davey Lopes would finish his Dodger career in fine style with the elusive World Championship in 1981. He would be the first of the famed infield to be replaced as the young fresh Steve Sax was ready for his time to shine. I'm not sure but I think Lopes caught the last out of the 81 series. It was fitting.
My own recollection is that Lopes was oft injured in 81 and many felt Sax should already be starting. Lopes was now 36 years and it didn't seem he had much left in the tank. But he surprised everyone by switching to the outfield and playing until he was 42 years old.
This has nothing to do with his Dodger legacy but the greatest skill Davey Lopes had as a ballplayer has shown up time and time again wherever he coaches. Whoever he's coaching gets the benefit of his basestealing skills as his teams have one of the highest stolen base rates year in and year out.