Javy Lopez was a mainstay at catcher for the Braves during their glory years. He provided power from behind the plate from his rookie year of 1994 until 2003, his final season with the club, when he set the major-league single-season record for a catcher with 42 home runs.
Lopez actually hit 43 that season, but one came as a pinch hitter, so 42 stands as the mark.
He officially retired in 2008, and in 2009, started Bones Bat, a company that produces hardwood bats. Lopez runs the company from his suburban Atlanta home and spends much of his time with his wife Gina, his sons from his first marriage – Javier, 16, and Kelvin, 12 – and their 1-year-old son Brody.
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Lopez became an author earlier last month, when “Behind the Plate: A Catcher’s View of the Braves Dynasty,” which was co-wrote by Gary Caruso, was published. He recently spoke to FoxSportsSouth.com about the book, which details his life growing up in Puerto Rico, his rise through the minors, time with the Braves, Baltimore and Boston, and personal life.
Q: How was it being at spring training this year? Does it make you miss playing?
A: It’s always good to get back there. It brings back memories. The first year (made me miss playing). I was ready to grab a bat and hit some balls. At this point, I just want to be with my family and be able to hang out there and feel a part of the Braves. I like being about to be in the uniform and hang out with the coaches and the team. I’m willing to help out the best way I can.
Q: Why did you decide to write the book?
A: A lot of people kept telling me I should write a book. Why? Because the Braves had been so successful in the 1990s and early 2000s, and people are always interested to see what was behind the legacy and what happened during the legacy. They want to know what was there to make the team so successful. You don’t hear things on radio or hear on TV the things I experienced personally. When you play 14 years in the big leagues, you have a lot to say, you have a lot to talk about that people would be interested in, especially Braves fans.
Q: Are you happy with the way the book turned out?
A: What can I say? I don’t put anybody down. I told the truth. I’m not ashamed of what I wrote. It’s a story. For some people it might be interesting. For some people it might be boring. There are some things in there that even my family doesn’t know about. Once they read it, they’ll know about it. I’m pleased with the way it turned out.
Q: You mention that when you were called up for the first time in 1992, it was your first major-league game. What was that like?
A: That was an amazing experience. That was the first time I’d been to a major league stadium. I’d been to quite a few pretty stadiums in Triple-A, and I thought major-league stadiums would be better, but not that much better. I had seen them on TV, but it was different being there for yourself, how big everything is. When I got (to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium), all the seats were empty. All I could think about was that there were going to be a lot of freaking people there. That whole stadium was packed. I was like “Oh, my God.” Cameras were everywhere. People were everywhere. I was just praying that would not have to play that night. It was very intimidating.
Q: Did Francisco Cabrera really tell you that he was going to drive in the winning run in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS?
A: The first thing I said to him, once he got the base hit, and Sid Bream scored – I ran to him – and I said to him, “You told me. You told me.” He told me, “I told you. I told you.” It was unbelievable. We were just talking (in the bullpen) about it an inning before. During the season, he had a lot of pinch hits. The game was close and he knew at some point that he was going to pinch hit, so he was getting himself ready in the eighth inning. He told me, “I’m going to get the base hit to drive in the winning run.” Something like that. Then the telephone rings and they called for Cabrera, and I’m like, “Go get it. Go get it.” And then he got the base hit. I ran like Carl Lewis toward second base. “You did it. You did it.”
Q: Do you still think about Game 2 of the 1995 World Series a lot? You had a two-run homer and picked Manny Ramirez off first base in the eighth inning of that game. Was that a highlight of your career?
A: It was one of the games that I’ll never forget. I was happy to be in the World Series. I was even happier that we won that won that game. I was happy to hit that home run. I was happy to pick Manny Ramirez off first base and cut their rally. It was overwhelming. So many things happened that night. My sister and my mom were at the stadium watching the game, so that makes me feel even better.
Q: You wrote that 1996 was the last time you saw “Braves Fever,” as you called it. Were the fans indifferent after that? Was the enthusiasm gone?
A: There was a big difference after ’96. When we were in the playoffs against the Marlins in ’97, you could hear how the fans weren’t the same. You didn’t feel that energy from the fans anymore. You could hear the (tomahawk chant) constantly to try to pump up the people, and the people didn’t get pumped up. And there were empty seats in the upper deck that we didn’t see before. We knew it wasn’t the same. Playoff time wasn’t the same. Ninety-six was the last time we saw the big energy from the fans. Ninety-seven. Ninety-eight. All the way until now, it hasn’t been the same. It’s kind of sad. Hey, be grateful that we made it to the playoffs.
Q: It seems you didn’t always agree with the moves the Braves made, like trading David Justice and Marquis Grissom for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree in 1997? Were there others that didn’t make sense to you?
A: We didn’t know what was the reason they did that. It couldn’t have been for money. We went to back-to-back World Series in ’95 and ’96, so obviously the team made plenty of money. I don’t remember if they were going to be free agents or not. In my opinion, those two guys were big, big, big factors why our team was so successful. Marquis Grissom was the spark plug of the team and David Justice was the leader of the team. He spoke a lot at our meetings. He made sure everybody was doing things the right way. He cheered us up. When they were traded, I was like, “What happened? Why are they doing that?” It was kind of said to see them leave. They were good teammates.
Q: You wrote a lot about your relationships with your former teammates. Who was your favorite?
A: They were all good teammates, but the one – and I love him to death – because he makes me laugh so much – was Vinny Castilla. Everybody loved him. He was a great guy. Down to earth. And he was funny. Sometimes you didn’t know what was going to come out of his mouth. He would crack you up. At the same time, he was a tremendous offensive and defensive player.
Q: What is your opinion why you didn’t catch Greg Maddux after the ’94 season?
A: I still don’t know the reason why I didn’t catch him after that. I don’t want to say that he didn’t like me behind the plate. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I never heard it from him. I heard mixed answers about that. Some people say that Bobby Cox just wanted to give me a day off with him. Some people said that we needed a fresh arm to throw people out at second base because he had the slowest move to home plate, so a lot of runners could steal bases on him. They wanted a fresh catcher, like Eddie (Perez) at that time. Some people said that (Maddux) didn’t need that much offense, that he only needed two or three runs to win games. People ask why I didn’t catch Maddux, and I’m like, that’s a question you might want to ask Bobby Cox, not me. I still don’t know the answer. I don’t want to think the worst. I don’t want to think that Maddux didn’t want me because he didn’t like me behind the plate. All I know, that one year I caught him, he pitched really good. So, I don’t know. He won a Cy Young when I was catching him.
Q: Does it still bother you that you didn’t catch Maddux?
A: It did bother me because there were some games I really wanted to play because of the pitcher we were facing. I thought I could hit him really well. And then there were some days, like a Sunday, when I could use a day off because I caught the night before. But you know what, there were a lot of days, especially my last year with the Braves – 2003 – I mean, that year, I lost so many at-bats by not catching him, and I was on fire offensively. If I had over 500 at-bats, I’ve always been curious to see how many home runs I would have hit that year.
Q: Steroids aren’t mentioned in the book. Did you purposely avoid writing about their usage in baseball or in the Braves’ clubhouse?
A: (The editors of the book and I) never talked about that. And I’m really glad about that. It’s a personal thing. I didn’t want to get into a personal thing with all the people. I didn’t want to get to that point. The book is pretty much about the Braves and how successful we were and what we did to get to that point. That’s not what this book is about. I didn’t want it to be controversial. There are plenty of people out there who (do that), but not me.
Q: What are you doing these days?
A: I’m pretty much at home most of the time, being with my (youngest) son. I can manage my business from home. The kids are growing fast. You really want to be there for them and enjoy time with them. Once they grow, they’re gone. I want to make sure I enjoy every single moment with them.
Q: What do you think of the Braves’ chances this year?
A: As long as the team stays healthy, that’s the key. They have good young pitching. They can hit. They can run. They can hit for power. Obviously they have great talent, but the key is to stay healthy. They’ve got to play as a team and stay together. They can’t play as individuals. That’s not going to work. They’re going to have a great team.
Q: Can they duplicate what they did for the first five months of 2011?
A: They have the experience. They’re going to make sure (that September collapse) is not going to happen again. If they lose two or three games in a row, they can make some adjustments. They can go back to last year and try not to do what they did last year. They’ll try something different. I don’t think that’s going to happen this year. They learned their lesson. They know what to do in situations like that now.