Arguably the best second baseman in Los Angeles Dodgers history, Davey Lopes’s playing career is loaded with noteworthy achievements. Appearing in four straight All-Star Games, he once collected the most votes of all players. He won a Gold Glove, two stolen base titles, set a team record for homers by a second baseman, and an MLB record for consecutive stolen bases without being caught. However, observers noted that what drove Lopes to his greatest achievements were team goals. Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, “Lopes is not a trophy player. He’s a victory player.”1
Lopes, of Cape Verdean and Irish descent, was born on May 3, 1945, in East Providence, Rhode Island.2 One of 10 siblings living in a tenement, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound stalwart played baseball like someone who had something to prove. “If it hadn’t been for sports,” he said, “there’s no telling what I’d be or where I’d be. I had one glove until I got into high school. I guess I can admit now that I confiscated more than a few bats and balls.”3
He does not remember his father, who died when Davey was a toddler. A stepfather left the family. What little money the family had came from relief and the small salary of his mother, known as Mary Rose, who worked as a domestic. His father figure was Michael Sarkesian, who coached teams that Lopes played against. Sarkesian became the athletic director at Iowa Wesleyan and Washburn University and brought Lopes along with him. “Whatever I missed by having not really had a father, Sarkesian provided,” Lopes said. “He could relate to my problems, my environment. The drive, the determination, not to give in to the ghetto, to make something of my life, stems from my relations with him.”4
“The first day I ran out on to the field at Dodger Stadium was such a great high,” recalled Lopes, who spent 45 years in the majors, including 16 as a player with the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros, and three as a manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. “I had achieved something I had dreamed of my whole life. Coming from where I came from – the smallest state in the country and coming from the Northeast – the odds were quite slim for someone coming from my background to make it. It was just a great, great feeling.”5
Lopes was all-state in baseball and basketball at Providence’s La Salle Academy. After graduating, he played basketball and baseball at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, earning NAIA All-American honors in baseball before transferring to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Sarkesian was instrumental in enrolling him at each university. At Washburn in 1967, Lopes hit .380 with nine homers for the Ichabods, and he also played basketball. He earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and briefly taught sixth grade.
The Giants drafted Lopes in the eighth round in the June 1967 draft, but Lopes chose to stay in school. Months later, even though the offer reportedly was not much better than the one from the Giants, Lopes signed with the Dodgers as an outfielder after being selected in the second round (26th pick) of the secondary phase of the 1968 free-agent draft.6 He would skip two spring trainings in Vero Beach to finish classes and earn his degree.
He began his professional career in 1968 at Class-A Daytona Beach, Florida, hitting .247 with five homers, 33 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 82 games. He also married Linda Lee Vandover on July 12 of that season.7 The night before his wedding, he broke up no-hitters in both games of a doubleheader, ruining Bill Goble’s effort in the seventh inning in the first game and breaking up John Leavell’s clean slate in the ninth inning, then stealing two bases and scoring the winning run a couple batters later.8 Returning to Daytona Beach the following year, he batted .280 with nine homers, 33 RBIs and 32 steals in 72 games.
Promoted to Triple-A Spokane in 1970, Lopes hit .262 with six homers, 35 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 100 games, missing time to meet his military reserve requirements. He began his conversion to second base that year at the behest of manager Tommy Lasorda, working all winter with shortstop Tim Johnson, another Dodgers prospect, learning his new position.9 “I thought they were out of their minds,” Lopes recalled of trying to learn such intricacies as turning the double play and covering first base on bunts.10 He played second base more frequently at Spokane in 1971, when he batted .306 with six homers and 36 RBIs, and had 27 steals in 94 games.
After hitting .317 with 11 homers, 53 RBIs and a league-leading 48 stolen bases in 104 games the following year at Triple-A Albuquerque, Lopes was recalled by the Dodgers for the last two weeks of the 1972 season. He appeared in 11 games as a second baseman, hit .214 in 42 at-bats and stole four bases in as many attempts, then played for Caracas of the Venezuelan League in the Caribbean Series.
Lopes lost his battle with Lee Lacy for the starting second base spot during 1973 spring training.11 However, when Lacy hit .219 with 17 strikeouts in his first 64 at bats, Lopes moved into the lineup to stay. He joined Dodger teammates Steve Garvey (first base), Bill Russell (shortstop) and Ron Cey (third base) from 1973 to 1981 to become the longest intact starting infield in major league history.12 Lopes hit .388 through May 19 and was successful on his first 17 stolen base attempts, including the four steals at the end of the 1972 season.13
As a fixture in the leadoff spot, he finished his rookie season with a .275 average, six homers, 37 RBIs, and 36 steals in 52 tries. The Dodgers placed second in the NL West just 3½ games behind the Cincinnati Reds, fueling a rivalry between the two teams that would last for a decade. From 1972 to 1981, either the Dodgers or Reds won the NL West every year except 1980, when Houston beat the Dodgers in a one-game playoff.
By 1974 Lopes acknowledged that he was the team’s sparkplug and was eager to accept that responsibility. “I’m not bold enough to believe that I’m the team leader,” he said, “but I realize that when I’m running and stealing bases, I’m setting the momentum and getting the adrenaline going for the rest of the lineup. I’m simply more confident and aggressive than I was last year. And until someone proves he can stop me, or the situation dictates I don’t run, I’m going to be stealing all the time.”14
Unfortunately, with his disruptive behavior on the bases came some unwanted attention. “Pitchers are starting to throw close to me,” he admitted to Mel Durslag of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. “After I stole a base against San Diego, the guy put one right around my head. The tags are coming harder when I’m on base. And when a double play is in the works while I’m in the field, the runners are nailing me pretty good at second.”15
On August 4, Lopes stole four bases against Houston to become the first Dodger to swipe four in a game since Maury Wills had performed the feat in 1962. Lopes later stole five bases in seven attempts against the Cardinals on August 24 to tie Dan McGann’s 70-year-old National League record. In the best performance of his career, he exploded for three home runs, a double, a single and four RBIs during an 18-8 Dodger victory over the Chicago Cubs on August 20 at Wrigley Field.16 The three homers doubled his output for the season and tied the Los Angeles Dodgers record for most home runs in a game shared by Don Demeter (1959) and Jimmy Wynn (1974). The Dodgers finished 102-60 to win the NL West by four games over the Reds. With Lopes hitting .267, Los Angeles beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS before falling to Charlie Finley’s Oakland Athletics in a five-game World Series. Lopes struggled in the fall classic, recording just two hits.
Recalling that Philadelphia Phillies manager Danny Ozark, a former Dodgers coach, once said, “You’ve got to keep Lopes off the bases to beat the Dodgers,” Lopes eagerly set his sights on 75 steals for 1975.17 “He gets a great jump,” Lasorda observed. “He accelerates on the first step as quickly as any runner since Maury Wills. Davey is the type of guy who causes the other team to make mistakes.” Reds catcher Johnny Bench agreed: “He’s the best there is at stealing. Lopes not only has the knowledge and speed, but also the quick acceleration. He has everything.”18
Lopes finished the year with a league-leading 77 steals in 89 attempts. He stole 38 bases without being caught from June 10 through August 24 to break Max Carey’s mark of 36 in a row set during the 1922-23 seasons. Lopes was finally nabbed by Gary Carter of the Expos in the 12th inning on August 24 after stealing number 38 in the seventh inning. (Vince Coleman broke the record with 50 straight steals in 1988-89.)
Lopes began teaching base thievery, a task at which he would excel, to Dodgers minor-leaguers in the winter Arizona Instructional League. He did not play in the first six weeks of the 1976 season after pulling a muscle in his left rib cage in spring training, and missed two weeks in early June while hospitalized with an injured neck.19 Restricted to playing in 117 games because of injuries, he still led the NL with 63 stolen bases in 73 attempts. However, his batting average fell to .241.He rebounded in 1977, boosting his average to .283 as the Dodgers won the West Division. They beat the Phillies to win the NL pennant, then lost the World Series in six games to the New York Yankees.
When Lasorda had first managed Lopes in Spokane, Lopes would not speak at all. Lasorda said he was a shy, introverted youngster who seldom strung two words together. “It took two years, but he finally came around,” Lasorda said. “[He] finally got to the point where he felt he belonged.”20
Lopes had begun to show leadership qualities as early as 1976, when he approached outfielder Dusty Baker after a game in which Baker’s throw home had missed the cutoff man. Baker had just been acquired from the Atlanta Braves. “We don’t play that way,” Lopes said, “Hey, I almost threw him out,” the Dodger newcomer replied. “We don’t play that way,” Lopes emphasized a second time. “I’ve never had a player get in my face like that, and I didn’t like it too much,” Baker recalled of the incident. “I looked up and the whole team was coming over to back up Davey.”21
Late in the ’77 season, Lasorda told club president Peter O’Malley that Lopes had been serving all year as the Dodgers’ unofficial team captain.22 It was time to make it official. O’Malley agreed. Lopes became the fifth team captain in club history, following Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Wills, and Willie Davis. When Lasorda told the team, they applauded, then needled their new leader. “Captain,” said Tommy John, incredulously. “Everyone knows that Ron Cey is our leader.” “Maybe,” said Lopes, laughing, “but Ron isn’t stopping at captain. He’s going right on to commissioner.”23
“[Lopes] is an exceptional leader,” Lasorda said. “There are others who would do as well … Ron Cey, Reggie Smith, Steve Garvey and some others … but everyone has looked up to Davey for a long time. He’s an aggressive player who makes things happen.”24
In 1978, Lopes got off to perhaps the best start of his career. Through June 25, he was batting .318 with eight homers and 24 RBIs.25 He was selected to play in his first All-Star Game as a backup to Joe Morgan at second base. He singled in a run off Goose Gossage in his only at-bat.26 Taking on the responsibility of team captain seemed to agree with Lopes; he had an award-winning campaign at bat and in the field, amassing 17 homers and 58 RBIs in 151 games, scoring a team-high 93 runs and stealing 45 bases in 49 tries to help the Dodgers win their second straight division title. LA finished 95-67 to outlast the runner-up Reds by 3½ games.
The postseason results were a repeat from the preceding year, with the Dodgers again beating the Phillies in a four-game NLCS and falling to the Yankees in six World Series games. This time, Lopes starred at the plate in the 1978 postseason, batting .389 with two homers and five RBIs against Philadelphia and .308 with a team-leading three homers (two in Game One) and seven RBIs against New York. National League players selected Lopes as second baseman on The Sporting News NL All-Star team. Another award came Lopes’s way for his defense when he was named as The Sporting News Rawlings Gold Glove second baseman. Lopes outpolled Morgan, who had won the honor the previous five years.
In 1979 Lopes signed a five-year, seven-figure deal just before spring training.27 He made his first error of 1979 on May 20, ending a streak of 48 consecutive games without a miscue going back to the previous season.28 At age 34, he had the best year of his career: 28 homers, tying Cey and Garvey for the team lead, 73 RBIs, and 44 steals in 48 tries. His home run output set a Dodgers record for a second baseman, shattering Jim Lefebvre’s 1966 mark of 24. He also paced the club with 109 runs scored, good for third in the league.
Lopes began showing signs of age in 1980. Yet, despite hitting .236 at the time of balloting, he garnered 3,862,403 votes to lead all players and earn the starting assignment in the 1980 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. He grounded out against Steve Stone in his only at-bat.29 His stolen base total fell to 23 in 30 attempts. Los Angeles (92-71) swept Houston in a three-game series at Dodger Stadium on the last weekend of the season to tie the Astros for first place, only to lose a one-game playoff.
On May 16, 1981, Lopes injured an ankle sliding into third base and did not play again in the first half of the strike-split season. He returned to action on August 9 at the All-Star Game, where he walked in his only at-bat.30 A week into the second half, the second baseman was placed on the disabled list with a groin injury. Lopes appeared to lose his starting spot to Steve Sax, a highly regarded prospect called up from the minors as his replacement.31 When Lopes started on September 6 for the first time in three weeks and went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in a 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Lasorda revealed that Lopes was still the team’s starter.32
The Dodgers had already earned a postseason berth by winning the regular season first-half title. In the Division Series, they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Houston, then battled back from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate the Montreal Expos in five games in the NLCS to advance to the World Series, again facing the Yankees. The 1981 World Series was a mix of good and bad moments for Lopes. He helped spark the Dodgers’ postseason surge by stealing a then-record 10 bases in 10 attempts. However, he also tied ex-Dodger Willie Davis’s ignominious 1966 record by making three errors in one game, and set a new standard for World Series second basemen with six miscues.33 But, after losing the first two games on the road, the Dodgers won the next four.
The World Series triumph was the veteran infield quartet’s last hurrah. On February 8, 1982, Lopes was traded to the Oakland A’s for minor-league shortstop Lance Hudson, who never played in the majors. The trade broke up the long-standing infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey, which had begun playing together as a unit on June 23, 1973. Garvey was signed by the San Diego Padres as a free agent on December 21, 1982. Cey was swapped to the Chicago Cubs for Vance Lovelace, a pitcher who never made the Dodgers, on January 19, 1983.
After a lackluster ’82 season with the fifth-place A’s, Lopes bounced back in ’83 to tie for the team lead with 17 home runs and go 22 for 26 in stolen bases. But when Oakland acquired Joe Morgan via free agency before the 1984 season, Lopes lost his starting assignment34 and, on August 31, was sent to the NL East champion Cubs as the player to be named later after Oakland acquired pitcher Chuck Rainey on July 15. As a utility player, Lopes went hitless in his only postseason at-bat against the San Diego Padres in the NLCS.
In 1985, Lopes earned regular playing time as a replacement for injured outfielders Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier. “Just look at that man,” Cubs coach Don Zimmer said of Lopes. “He’s 39 with a 25-year-old body. Remember that quickness he was always known for? He still has it.”35 Lopes set the record for most stolen bases in a season by someone his age by stealing 47 in 51 attempts, shattering the mark of 21 steals at age 39 set by Honus Wagner in 1913. (Thirty-nine-year-old Rickey Henderson later stole 66 bases in 1998.)
In 1986, Lopes was swapped to the Astros on July 21 for relief pitcher Frank DiPino. The following season. he served as a baserunning instructor for Houston manager Hal Lanier during spring training, a preview of his future career in coaching, After starting the 1987 season on the disabled list because of arm injuries, Lopes had just 43 at-bats in his 16th and final year as a major league player.36
Lopes was hired by the Texas Rangers the following year to work as a coach on manager Bobby Valentine’s staff, serving in that capacity for four seasons. Fired by Valentine, he was hired by Baltimore Orioles manager Johnny Oates, a former Dodger teammate, for 1992 as first-base coach, outfield coach, and baserunning coach.37 He stayed with Baltimore through 1994 and also managed Tucson in the 1993 Fall Instructional League.38 Lopes served as first-base coach and baserunning advisor for Bruce Bochy’s San Diego Padres from 1995 to 1999.
After coaching at the major-league level for 12 years, Lopes finally got his chance to manage in the big leagues when he signed a three-year deal to lead the Milwaukee Brewers beginning in 2000.39 In his first season, the Brewers placed third in the NL Central with a 73-89 record. They dropped to fourth the following year at 68-94. When Milwaukee managed only three wins in its first 15 games in 2002 — at the time the worst start in franchise history — Lopes was fired.40
Lopes returned to the Padres as a first-base coach in 2003. In 2006, he spent one season as the Washington Nationals’ first-base coach and baserunning advisor for manager Frank Robinson. When Lopes served in the same capacity for Charlie Manuel’s Phillies from 2007 to 2010, they ranked in the top five every year in NL base-stealing percentage. They also won the NL East all four years and the 2008 World Series championship.
In a routine examination in February 2008, Lopes was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In his youth, he could have been a casualty on the streets of East Providence. He could have quit college, but he earned his degree and made it to the majors. His career seemed to be over in 1981 — but he played nearly another decade. It took him more than 10 years to get a shot at managing. Prostate cancer? Of course, Lopes beat it.41
In 2011, Lopes returned to the Dodgers as a first-base coach for five years. He closed out his five-decade baseball career in 2017 as a coach for his old teammate Dusty Baker with the Washington Nationals.
Lopes was an above-average hitter, a leader of a team that won four pennants and a World Series, a Gold Glove winner at a position he never expected to play, and ranked 26th in major league history with 557 career stolen bases. His stolen base success rate tops those of Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock and Maury Wills.
On December 28, 1988, the City of Providence City Council honored Lopes by passing a resolution to name a pool and recreation center after him.
Last revised: May 27, 2021
This biography was reviewed by Paul Proia and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author relied on information from Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball Almanac, 1973 Los Angeles Dodgers Yearbook, 1975 Los Angeles Dodgers Yearbook, 1976 Los Angeles Dodgers Yearbook, 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers Yearbook and Los Angeles Dodgers 1980 Media Guide.
1 Jim Murray, “The Dodgers’ .667 Hitter Is a Man with a Mission,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1978: III-1, III-6.
2 Originally, Lopes’s birth year was listed as 1946. This can be found in numerous articles, his annual baseball questionnaires, the backs of baseball cards, and baseball encyclopedias. It was still noted as 1946 when he was hired to manage Milwaukee years after his last game. Somewhere after 1999, Lopes must have quietly admitted that his real birthdate was in 1945, requiring a new evaluation of his ability to remain a great base stealer into his forties. Also, Tim Keown, “Too Truthful For His Own Good, Davey Lopes Has the Shot He Should Have Gotten,” ESPN.com, https://www.espn.com/espn/magazine/archives/news/story?page=magazine-20000221-article10 accessed April 20, 2021.
3 Ross Newhan, “Lopes Does His Stealing on the Base Paths,” Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1973: 3-1,3-6.
4 Newhan, “Lopes Does His Stealing on the Base Paths.”
5 Susan Shemanske, “Davey Lopes overcomes odds and a long wait to become manager”, Racine (WI) Journal Times, January 16, 2000.
7 Lopes’s marriage to Linda (Lin) Lee Vandover lasted only seven years, but their relationship remained extraordinarily strong and produced a daughter, Vanessa Lin, who was born around the time Lopes won his World Series ring. FL Marriage Index, California Divorce Index, and “The Davey Lopes File,” Manitowac Herald Times, November 4, 1999: B1.
8 “Lauderdale Splits Two; Eyes Move Up Tonight,” Fort Lauderdale News, July 12, 1968: 16.
9 “Spokane’s Lineup Set for Opener,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 3, 1971: 13.
10 Gordon Verrell, “‘Unexpected’ Is Middle Name of Leader Lopes”, The Sporting News, August 26, 1978: 3.
11 Bob Hunter, “Dodger Kids Sparkle in Latin Loops”, The Sporting News, February 27, 1973: 52. Also, Bob Hunter, “Smokey Still in Haze Over Two Dodger Spots”, The Sporting News, March 24, 1973: 39.
12 Bob Hunter, “Catcher Ferguson’s Sizzling Bat Earns Dodger Raves, The Sporting News, May 12, 1973: 10.
13 Bob Hunter, “Dodger Boo Birds Tied into Knots by ‘Ropes’, The Sporting News, June 9, 1973: 3, 4.
14 Ross Newhan, “Lightening Lopes Strikes Key for Dodger Swifties”, The Sporting News, April 27, 1974: 19.
15 Ross Newhan, “Dodgers’ Frustrated Foes Take Shots at Swift Lopes” The Sporting News, August 24, 1974: 5.
16 “Little Lopes lashes 3 HRs in L.A. romp,” Escondido Times-Advocate, August 21, 1974: A-11.
17 Gordon Verrell, “L’il Dave Counting on Bunts to Reach Dodger Theft Goal”, The Sporting News, February 22,1975: 38.
18 1976 Los Angeles Dodgers Yearbook: 35.
19 Ed Prell, “AIL’S Dodgers: Different Lineup Every Day”, The Sporting News, November 8, 1975: 53. Also, Gordon Verrell, “Bunts and Patience Top Goals for Lopes”, The Sporting News, February 26, 1977: 41.
20 Don Merry, “Lopes Puts in Act and Steals the Show”, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1977: III-1, III-7.
21 Tim Keown, “The Honest Man”, ESPN.com, July 10, 2012.
22 Lyle Spencer, “The Unofficial Captain”, 1977 World Series Program, Dodgers Section: 18.
23 Ross Newhan, “Lasorda Names Lopes Captain”, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1978: III-1, III-6.
24 Gordon Verrell, “Capt. Lopes Aims to Keep Dodgers Fired Up”, The Sporting News, March 25, 1978: 44.
25 Gordon Verrell, “Lopes Stealing Less but Contributing More”, The Sporting News, July 8, 1978: 13.
26 Lowell Reidenbaugh, “Garvey Calls Tune and N.L. Beat Goes On”, The Sporting News, July 29, 1978: 9, 38:
27 Dick Miller, “Garvey’s Dodger Pay $300,000 and Climbing”, The Sporting News, February 10, 1979: 33.
28 Gordon Verrell, “Joshua Bats Down Walls as Recycled Dodger”, The Sporting News, June 9, 1979: 33
29 “Blue Ribbon Voters”, The Sporting News, July 19, 1980: 16. Also, Dick Kaegel, “All-Stars Dull Encore to Hollywood Hoopla”, The Sporting News, July 26, 1980: 10.
30 Gordon Verrell, “Dodger Wounds Heal”, The Sporting News, July 11, 1981: 39.
31 Gordon Verrell, “Dodgers: Sax Wins Job”, The Sporting News, September 12, 1981: 52.
32 Gordon Verrell, “Lopes Halts Critics With 3-Hit Splurge”, The Sporting News, September 26, 1981: 23.
33 Furman Bisher, “If Steinbrenner’s Sued, We Can Buy His Tale”, The Sporting News, November 14, 1981: 11.
34 Kit Stier, “Lopes Rescues A’s in Utility Role”, The Sporting News, April 23, 1984: 25
35 Joe Goddard, “At 39, Cubs’ Lopes Is Holding His Own”, The Sporting News, July 1, 1985: 25. Also, Elias Sports Bureau, “N.L. Batting, Including Games of June 20”, The Sporting News, July 1, 1985: 38.
36 “N.L. West, Astros”, The Sporting News, March 2, 1987: 20. Also, “Notebook, N.L. West, Astros”, The Sporting News, June 1, 1987: 17. Also, “Astros”, The Sporting News, June 22, 1987: 34.
37 Peter Schmuck, “Baltimore Orioles”, The Sporting News, November 4, 1991: 18
38 Neil Hohfeld, “Houston Astros”, The Sporting News, October 25, 1993: 22.
39 Associated Press, “Lopes finally gets shot to manage”, ESPN Baseball, November 4, 1999