In 1954 Stan “Stash” Lopata, the hard-hitting Philadelphia Philles’ catcher, was stuck in a prolonged slump. When the Phillies were in Cincinnati, Lopata’s teammate Johnny Wyrostek bumped into Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s most respected hitting experts as attested to by his .358 lifetime batting average and his .424 mark in 1924. Wyrostek had played parts of 1952 and 1953 with the Reds when Hornsby was manager.
Wyrostek asked Hornsby what his friend Lopata was doing wrong. Hornsby said: “Well, I’ve seen him on television and he swings and he misses the ball too often.” Hornsby’s message was to get a piece of the ball every time you swing the bat—not necessarily a hit but at least a foul ball.
Hearing Hornsby’s advice, Lopata adopted a crouched stance to more easily follow the pitched ball and banged out a couple of hits. Then, spurred on by his initial success, the next day Lopata tried a more radical crouch, saw the ball even better, and got another handful of hits. By the year’s end, Lopata hit a solid .290, up from his 1953 .239 average.
Whether or not Alex Cora has ever heard of Hornsby is not known. But Cora certainly is a living example of the Rajah’s wisdom.
On May 4, 2004 when the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Chicago Cubs, Cora had an 18-pitch at-bat against the Cubs starting pitcher Matt Clement. Facing a 2–1 count, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches before finally hitting a two-run home run.
The next day the Dodger club house was abuzz over Cora’s 14 minute epic confrontation against Clement. When Cora came to the plate, Clement had thrown 86 pitches. When he was pulled after Cora’s home run, his total ballooned to 104.
Said Dodger manager Jim Tracy: “I’m still in somewhat of amazement with that at-bat I saw last night. I’ve never seen a better at-bat against a pitcher of that caliber, the way he was throwing the ball. It’s not easy to foul 14 pitches off in a row, I can tell you that.”
The next day Cora said, “I was very relaxed and I didn’t rush myself. I was very calm and just got the result.” Since his classic at-bat, the Puerto Rican-born Cora has played for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Texas Rangers. On September 10, 2010 the Rangers released Cora.
No one will ever confuse Cora and his lifetime .244 career batting average with Hornsby. But the Rajah would have been delighted with Cora’s performance and attitude on that historic day.