Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday School: Phillies History Lesson 64

Stan Lopata was a catcher with the Phillies from 1948-1958. A back-up catcher through most of his career, a change in Lopata's batting stance well into his career increased his power and his playing time.

A Michigan native, Lopata, debuted with the Phillies in 1948, playing in 6 games. Over the next six seasons, he served as the understudy to backstops like Andy Semenick and "Smoky" Burgess.

Lopata played a key role in one of the best known defensive plays in Phillies history. In the final game of the 1950 season, with the Phillies and Dodgers playing one another and tied for the National League lead, the teams were knotted in a 1-1 tie in Brooklyn entering the bottom of the 9th inning. With Robin Roberts on the mound, the Dodgers quickly got runners on 1st and 2nd, with no outs. Duke Snider lined a single to centerfield. Richie Ashburn fielded the ball on one hop, while Dodgers third base coach, and former Phillie, Milt Stock waived Cal Abrams home. Abrams was a relatively slow runner, and was surely no match for Ashburn's arm. Richie fired home and Abrams was out by several feet, tagged by Stan Lopata. Ashburn's throw prevented the pennant winning run from scoring, and kept the Phillies alive. The game stayed tied into the 10th inning when Dick Sisler slammed a 3-run homerun that clinched the National League pennant for the Phillies and sent "The Whiz Kids" group into the history books.

In mid-1954 Lopata received a piece of advice from Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, who said Lopata wasn't getting a good look at incoming pitches and needed to focus on getting a piece of the ball each time he swung the bat. The next day, Lopata began crouching at the plate. Lopata, who never had more than 8 homers in a season, had 14 by the end of the year. The following season, 1955, Lopata had 22 homeruns and even better times were still to come.

With more power came more playing time and more chances to mash opposing pitchers. At age 30, the right-handed hitting Lopata played a career high 146 games in 1956, hitting 32 homeruns and driving in 95 runs, while making the National League all-star team for the second straight season.

In the coming seasons injuries would limit Lopata's playing time. Following a couple years of dwindled production, Lopata was traded to the Milwaukee Braves in a six player deal. In 32 games over parts of two seasons with the Braves, Lopata struggled and batted .107. He was released by Milwaukee following the 1960 season.

Lopata is a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and the National Polish-American Hall of Fame. A veteran of the second World War, the 84-year-old Lopata now resides in Arizona.


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