Hector Lopez, American baseball trailblazer, dies of lung cancer at 93

During his stint with the Yankees from 1959 to 1966, Lopez, a utility player, contributed to the team’s dominant run of five consecutive World Series appearances.

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Hector Lopez, a former New York Yankee who blazed a trail as the first Black manager in American professional baseball history, has died. He was 93.

Lopez, a Panama native, died Friday, Sept. 30 of lung cancer complications while in a Hudson, Florida hospital, his son, Darrol, told the New York Times.

Hector Lopez is introduced during Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

During his stint with the Yankees from 1959 to 1966, Lopez, a utility player, contributed to the team’s dominant run of five consecutive World Series appearances in multiple ways, suiting up as both an infielder and outfielder, per the outlet.

“Just being able to play in the big leagues for as long as I did at the time that I played is something I’m proud of,” said Lopez in an interview for the 2002 book “That Was Part of Baseball Then.”

“There was a lot of competition, a lot of great players during the ’50s and ’60s. Plus the fact that there weren’t that many Black ballplayers at that time. Especially in the American League. So I guess you can say I made the most out of my opportunities,” he added.

As one of the Yankees’ first Black players, Lopez was already laying the groundwork for future generations during his on-field career, a tradition which he continued after becoming the first Black man to manage a minor league team when the Buffalo Bisons hired him in 1969, the Times reported.

Although Lopez spent only one season in the role, a Black man was not hired as a major league manager for another six years until the Cleveland Indians named Frank Robinson to the position, per the outlet.

Portrait of Panamanian-born baseball player Hector Lopez, of the Kansas City Athletics poses, as he poses with a bat in his hands, Kansas City, Missouri, April 1955. The photo was taken at the start of his debut Major League baseball season. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Born Hector Headley Lopez Swainson on July 8, 1929, in Colon, Panama, Lopez was exposed to the game from an early age as his father played in local baseball leagues as a pitcher, according to the Times.

Lopez would go on to play for local amateur and professional leagues in Panama before he was recuited to sign with a team in a Quebec professional league. The team later became the minor league affiliate for the Kansas City Athletics, now the Oakland Athletics.

After four full seasons in the minor leagues, Lopez was signed to the Athletics as a third baseman in 1955, launching a 12-year career in the majors where he reportedly played every position but catcher and pitcher, according to the Times.

While a versatile contributor, Lopez was not regarded as a star player. He instead filled key roles for a Yankees dynasty led by stars such as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris as the club won the American League championship from 1960 through 1964, earning World Series titles in 1961 and 1962.

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