Editor’s note: I apologize for the lateness of this week’s edition of “Any player/Any era.” I’ve gotten behind in my writing recently and will work to maintain a regular posting schedule in the future.
What he did: Part of the triumvirate of New York Yankee aces in the late 1940s and early ’50s with Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi, Lopat figured into an interesting passage of David Halberstam’s classic, Summer of ’49. Halberstam wrote of Lopat, “He was a converted first baseman who had become a pitcher in the minor leagues during the war. His friend Reynolds thought, and he did not mean it pejoratively, that if not for the war years, Lopat would never have made it to the majors. He did not throw particularly hard, and in normal times he would have been weeded out for lack of a fastball.”
It’s an intriguing idea, though I don’t know if I agree. Halberstam made note of Lopat’s intelligence (“like having an additional pitching coach”) and use of a slow curve ball that he learned from Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons, attributes that seem like they would serve Lopat well in any generation of pitchers. And junk ball hurlers have long had their place in baseball from Lyons to Gaylord Perry to Barry Zito. I’d like to think Lopat could have had another ticket to the majors besides World War II.
Era he might have thrived in: Lopat, Raschi, and Reynolds may have been the Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson of their time, another trio of hurlers instrumental in helping non-elite offensive teams into the postseason, so we’ll substitute Lopat for fellow slow-tossing southpaw Zito. At least statistically, his converted 1951 season where he went 21-9 with a 2.91 ERA might approach Zito’s 2002 American League Cy Young campaign.
Why: I don’t know if any era in baseball history would maximize Lopat’s talents, but Oakland in 2002 would offer much of what worked for him. For one thing, he’d be going from one great club to another, seeing as the ’51 Yankees went 98-56, scoring 798 runs and allowing 621, while the 2002 A’s were 103-59 with 800 runs scored and 654 allowed. He’d once again be in a pitcher’s park, playing under savvy management (both teams exceeded their Pythagorean win totals.) I’m also guessing Oakland would be willing to consider an unconventional, older pitcher like Lopat, who made the majors at 25, given its penchant for drafting college hurlers.
That being said, I’d be curious to see how Lopat would do playing in the Moneyball system. For all the talk of those A’s being masters of on-base percentage (though Moneyball was about much more than that), the ’51 Yankees carried a slightly better club OBP, .349 to .339. Neither team was renowned for its offense. Both clubs hit in the .260 range with a couple outstanding hitters, Eric Chavez and 2002 American League MVP Miguel Tejada for the A’s, and 1951 AL MVP Yogi Berra on New York. Other than that, it’s a wonder either team scored as many runs as it did with such nondescript casts.
The stat converter has Lopat giving the 2002 A’s a 16-10 record with a 3.25 ERA, which seems conservative for his 1951 numbers. Whatever the case, though, he’d have a deserved place in baseball.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays