Classic Yankees: Eddie Lopat

With all the talk recently about decreased velocity, I thought it might be a good time to remember a Yankee known for his lack of velocity; one who was Jamie Moyer-like and who had a nickname of “The Junkman,” as well as “Steady Eddie” and others that are unprintable (given to him by frustrated hitters).  One who drove Ted Williams nuts. Who stated that “his main purpose was to make a hitter off-stride.” Young pitchers could learn from how he pitched. Velocity is important, but command and control are much more important.

Edmund Walter Lopatynski was born in NYC in 1918. Shortened to Eddie Lopat, he teamed with the hard-throwing Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi to form the “Big Three,” a trio of starters who led the Yankees to five consecutive World Series triumphs from 1949 through 1953. Although none of the Big Three are in the Hall of Fame (I’d argue for Reynolds), no trio or quartet of pitchers can match that accomplishment. Not Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz, Koufax-Drysdale-Osteen, Cuellar-Palmer-McNally, not Hunter-Holtzman-Blue, nobody. Whitey Ford was only there for half of 1950, then all of 1953. Ford missed 1951 and 1952 due to military service.

Lopat’s junk was a great antidote to the hard throwing of Reynolds and Raschi. He had three speeds. Slow, Slower and Slowest. Williams would say that his timing was messed up for a good while after facing Lopat.  That was especially so if there was a three game series where Lopat was right in the middle between the other two.

Lopat broke into the majors in 1944 at the age of 25 with the White Sox. He went 11-10, 3.26, ERA+ 104. The following season he went 10-13, 4.11, ERA+ just 80. 1946 saw a 13-13 record with a good ERA of 2.73, ERA+ 125. 1947 saw more of the same with a 16-13, 2.81, ERA+ 129 season, which gave Lopat MVP consideration. He finished 31st.

In early 1948, Lopat was traded to the Yankees for three players, the most notable being Aaron Robinson. It was the first trade that GM George Weiss made, and it turned out to be a good one. Lopat was perfect for the Old Yankee Stadium, what with the deep LCF and CF there. He soon settled into joining and being part of a lefty lineage that stretches from Pennock through Gomez, then Lopat and Ford, through Guidry and Pettitte to Sabathia.

The Yanks didn’t win the pennant in 1948, but Lopat was solid, going 17-11, 3.65, ERA+ 112. The run of WS championships then followed. Lopat was 15-10, 3.26, ERA+ 124 in 1949, then he won his only WS game of 1949 despite giving up 4 R in 5 2/3.

In 1950, Lopat was 18-8, 3.47, ERA+ 124 and finished 28th in the MVP voting. He got a ND in the WS, giving up 2 R in 8 IP in Game 3.

1951 was Eddie’s finest year. For the only time in his career, he was a 20-game winner, going 21-9, 2.91, ERA+ 132. He led the AL in WHIP, made the All-Star team for the only time, and finished 12th in MVP voting. Even at that, he was overshadowed by Allie Reynolds, who threw two no-hitters in 1951. He also was overshadowed by Phil Rizzuto, who won the WS MVP. Lopat put in a good bid for that award, throwing two complete-game victories in the Series, giving up just two runs, one earned.

Lopat started having some arm trouble starting in 1952. He went 10-5, 2.53 as he started just 19 games (and got into one more in relief). ERA+ 133. He went 0-1, 4.76 in the Series.

In 1953, Lopat went 16-4, 2.42. He led the majors in winning percentage and the AL in ERA. The arm woes continued, as from 1952 until the end of his career he no longer started 30 games or gave 200 IP in a season. But still, in 1953 Lopat led the AL in ERA+ (154), WHIP, and BB/9 IP. He finished 17th in the MVP voting. In his only WS game that year, he pitched a CG victory, giving up two runs.

His WS record was 7 starts, 4-1, 2.60, three complete game victories.

After  1953, the Big Three were no more. Lopat would be the last to depart. Raschi was traded to St. Louis after 1953 (and would give up Hank Aaron’s first HR). Reynolds retired after 1954. Lopat would be traded to Baltimore in 1955 and retire after that season.

In 1954, Lopat went 12-4, 3.55 but his ERA+ dropped to a 98. He started slowly for the Yanks in 1955, going 4-8, 3.74, ERA+ 101, when he was traded to the Orioles for Jim McDonald. He went 3-4, 4.22 (ERA+ 91) for Baltimore. His combined record was 7-12, 3.91, ERA+ 97.

Lopat then retired at the age of 37 with a career record of 166-112, ERA 3.21 (ERA+ 116). The junkballer had just one year in his twelve-year career in which he struck out 100 batters (1947 with 109). His 162 game average was 17-12, 3.21.

Lopat didn’t do badly as a hitter, hitting .211 with 5 HR.

From Wikipedia: Lopat managed the AAA Richmond Virginians for the Yankees in the late 1950s, and in 1960 served one season as the Yankees’ pitching coach before holding the same post with the Minnesota Twins in 1961 and the Kansas City Athletics in 1962. In 1963 Lopat was tapped to manage the Athletics and continued in this role until June 11, 1964. His Major League managerial record was 90-124 (.421). Lopat stayed on as a senior front office aide to team owner Charlie Finley until the club moved to Oakland after the 1967 season. He then scouted for the Montreal Expos during their early years in Major League Baseball.

Lopat went 73-89 as KC’s manager in 1963, finishing 8th. It was he who managed the A’s on 5/22/63 at Yankee Stadium, and his bench-jockeying of ex-teammate Mickey Mantle was said to go over the line, according to Tony LaRussa in Jane Leavy’s superb biography of Mantle which came out last year. LaRussa was a young backup infielder on the A’s that year. A very ticked-off Mantle responded with an eleventh-inning walk off HR which he said was the hardest ball he ever hit. It missed clearing the stadium roof by about 18 inches and speculation continues to this day as to how far it would have gone if it wouldn’t have kissed the crown.

Lopat’s A’s were 17-35 and in last place when he was fired in 1964.

Lopat was a week shy of his 74th birthday when he died in 1992. While with the Yankees, he wore #30, a number later made famous by Mel Stottlemyre and Willie Randolph and now worn by David Robertson.

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