On this day, 21 years ago, Eddie Lopat, one of the greatest strategic pitchers in the history of the game, left us, creating a void in the Yankees' pitching rotation. He was known as, among other things, "Steady Eddie", and he well deserved this appellation because he was a steady, reliable winning pitcher who spent twelve years in the American League, 7 1/2 as a key figure in the Big Three rotation. He was known, among other things, as what the hapless Cleveland Indians called---and this was the polite term---"Nemesis"; he had
a way of monotonously and consistently beating them to an absolutely unrecognizable pulp to the tune of a 40-13 lifetime record against them. He was also known as one of the finest pitching coaches anyone could ever hope to work with, and this is how I remember him.
First and foremost, I remember "The Day Of The Slider"---September 17, 1951. I had, for the first and only time in my life, played hooky from school and gone to the game, and not only to see the game; I was consumed by a burning desire to find out more about the slider, and I was hoping that one of the Yankee pitchers might answer that question for me. That pitcher was Eddie Lopat, who---again---outpitched Bob Lemon 2-1, and I will never figure out just how I knew that Steady Eddie was the one I would have to ask. I caught up with him after the game, and albeit with some trepidation, because I had no idea what to expect, I said to him "Excuse me, Mr. Lopat---could I ask you something?" He looked at me, and then with four quiet words he had me in the palm of his hand. He said "Go ahead, I'm listening"---and the way he said it, in a calm voice with a peculiar undertone in it, relaxed me immediately. When I told him I just wanted to ask him something about the slider, his response was to draw me aside, away from the mob surrounding the clubhouse door, and show me how to throw a good one.
And that started it.
I remember the day we were talking about things like repertoire. At one point I told him I was using the crossfire a lot, and he stopped me: "Let's see what you're doing with it. Just go through the move." I did so, and he immediately called my attention to the fact that I wasn't getting quite the momentum from the stretch that I was from the full windup. I admitted that I didn't have much occasion to work from the stretch, not as a starter anyway, and he said---in that same calm voice---"You're getting the batters out." And we worked on the problem for a bit, and he proposed a drill that I could use to get the crossfire up to the speed I wanted in the stretch.
He commented, "You know, you haven't said one word about a fastball". I was flabbergasted and exclaimed "WHAT fastball?" He laughed---he had an easy, warm laugh---and told me "Don't worry about it. We'll work with what you've got"; immediately my admiration and respect for him jumped about 600% as I realized what he was telling me---that he would take me in hand, work with me and help me all he could.
I remember the day he introduced me to strategic pitching. He began by telling me a spy story---he was the spy---and recounting the details of a game in which he bamboozled, hoodwinked, deceived, conned and just plain stifled the Indians to the tune of 7-0 with several innings of nothing but fastballs and hard sliders---and several broken bats. When the Indians realized they had been had, they called him a bleeping S.O.B., and I couldn't stop laughing. Then he asked me, "Do you know why I told you that story?" I said that it had to do with one of the ways of keeping the opposition off balance, and he started in on some details of doing just that. We really got into that.
I remember some long discussions we had about the mental and psychological aspects of the bump---he was very interested in it. We talked about getting inside the batter's head, the better to confuse and discombooberate him, and from time to time he would get inside my head so we could explore the way my mind worked when I was pitching. And there was one time when I had a horrendous nightmare about losing it on the mound, when my two best pitches went into hiding and wouldn't come out---he introduced me to a psychological strategy I'd never even suspected he knew anything about, and in a little more than an hour he knocked that thing out of commission, restored my confidence and gave me, in effect, a powerful psychological shot in the arm at a time when I needed it.
I remember how on so many occasions I felt that we were just two pitchers comparing notes, how we would bounce ideas off each other and actually learn from each other. From the beginning Lopat knew where I was coming from, that I was really interested, wanted to know, and was willing to work at it, and so he had no reservations about teaching me some very advanced stuff he felt I needed to know. When I had been familiarizing myself with the slider he had been making some mental notes---he knew I was an honest-to-gosh sidearmer who could throw hard and who used the slide-step, and he took all this information and formed a jumping-off point from which he could work with me. Several times he told me that this was why he enjoyed working with me, that I caught on fast---and that I used my noodle, which he described as the most important pitch in a hurler's repertoire. When he said that I knew immediately what he meant.
And I will always remember the last thing he said to me: "Long after I'm gone---you will remember." It was a powerful posthypnotic suggestion that has stayed with me all these decades. I have retained all that I have learned, and from time to time I've been able to pass some of that knowledge along, including on some of these boards, whether it be a new pitch or advising someone on the best way to get a troublesome batter out or a good pickoff move. Yes, Eddie Lopat is gone now---but he left me a legacy of pitching advice and information, something the value of which can never be measured.
And for this I will remember him for all time. Steady Eddie, thank you.