Eddie Lopat, New York Yankees pitching legend and distinguished baseball man on the field, in the dugout and in the front office, is dead. Lopat, 73, succumbed to cancer yesterday at his home in Greenwich, Conn.
They called him "The Junkman" because of the assortment of curves, slurves and off-speed "slop" he used so successfully to stymie hitters from 1944, when he broke in with the White Sox, until 1955, when he retired shortly after being sold by the Yankees to the Orioles.
In his heyday with the Yankees from 1949-53, the lefthander averaged 16 wins with a high of 21 in 1951. In '53 he led the American League in both winning percentage (16-4, .800) and ERA (2.42). In five World Series, Lopat was equally baffling, compiling a 4-1 record and 2.60 ERA, including a pair of complete-game victories over the Giants in 1951. His career mark was 166-112.
In later years, Lopat often protested to friends that the "Junkman" label was unfair. "I had a decent fastball," he said, "I just knew how to spot it."
Upon retirement, Lopat went back to work for the Yankees as manager of their Triple-A farm team in Richmond and was rumored to be the eventual successor to Casey Stengel. However, when Stengel was fired after the 1960 season, Lopat was passed over for Ralph Houk. From there, Lopat went to the Athletics and worked his way up through their organization from pitching coach to manager and, finally, general manager.
In his heart, though, he was always a Yankee and always wore his 1953 world championship ring -- symbolic of the record five-straight Yankee world championships. At lunch recently with a friend, he reflected on his career and those "five-straight" teams.
"That's something no team will ever do again," Lopat said. "Those guys on those teams were special."
None more special than the guy they called "The Junkman."