03/22/08 5:24 PM ET
Lopez decides to retire after being cut
Veteran catcher told he won't be part of Opening Day roster
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Given the chance that he could potentially remain in the organization as a Minor League player, Lopez instead opted to retire. His desire was to have one more opportunity to play with the Braves, who had employed him throughout the prime of his career.
"I just want to thank the Braves for giving me this opportunity," said Lopez as he was driving back to Atlanta early Saturday evening. "Not every team would have even given me a chance. I knew I had to produce numbers offensively and defensively, and I didn't do it."
During an early afternoon conversation with Braves general manager Frank Wren, Lopez said he was happy to have the opportunity to retire as a Brave. Wren replied by telling the veteran catcher that the organization was proud to call him one of its own.
"He thinks of himself as a Brave, and I told him that's the way we feel about it too," Wren said. "We wish him well and want him to be a part of the organization for a long time, as far as feeling welcome to be around the ballclub as one of our former great players."
Once Braves manager Bobby Cox told Lopez on Saturday that he'd lost his battle to be the club's backup catcher, the veteran catcher evaluated his options and decided it was time to put an end to what was an impressive career.
With Clint Sammons needing to play for Triple-A Richmond on an everyday basis, Lopez was given the option of possibly catching once a week and alternating during the week as a first baseman and designated hitter.
But it didn't take him long to decide it was time to retire. The Red Sox had released him in September 2006 and the Rockies released him during Spring Training last year. These events, combined with Saturday's announcement, provided him all the indication he needed.
"I didn't need to go play in the Minors at this point in my career," Lopez said. "I've been released three times now in three years. It's time to go home and be with my family."
Although he had committed himself to improving defensively throughout this past offseason, Lopez was never able to impress in the manner that he had while previously playing in Atlanta from 1992-2003.
At 37 years old, Lopez no longer has the power that helped him hit a career-high 43 homers in 2003 or the swing that helped him win Most Valuable Player honors in the 1996 National League Championship Series.
But the three-time All-Star catcher still has some good memories from a career, during which he hit .287 with 260 homers. He set a Major League record by hitting 42 of his homers in 2003 while playing the catcher's position.
"Javy had a great career with the Braves before he left," Wren said. "He put up some numbers that are going to be hard to ever beat, from a standpoint of offensive production from that position."
Lopez was around for 10 of the seasons during which the Braves compiled their unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles. Though he was always known for his offense, he was the catcher who was responsible for the great pitching staff that existed in Atlanta for more than a decade.
"He was a fan favorite in Atlanta," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who first played with Lopez in 1992. "Everybody loved Javy. His teammates loved him. He was a great guy."
After getting released by the Rockies in Spring Training last year, Lopez decided not to skip the 2007 season. His decision to commit himself to improving his defense during the offseason led the Braves to offer him a Minor League contract.
But during the early weeks of camp, it was apparent that his mechanical improvements behind the plate weren't enough to offset the fact that his arm was still rusty. Throw in the fact that he hit just .188 with a pair of homers in 32 at-bats this spring and it's easy to understand why Lopez lost this battle for the backup spot against Corky Miler, Brayan Pena and Sammons.
"He caught and received the ball really well," Cox said. "He blocked really good. Throwing, he needs more time back there."
While there is some thought that Miller might be the favorite to win the backup spot, Cox and Wren both say the battle is still too close to call.
"We're going to end up with a real good backup catcher that a lot of clubs would want," Wren said. "We're fortunate in that regard."
After the 2003 season, Lopez signed a free-agent contract with the Orioles. While playing in Baltimore and Boston from 2004-2006, he combined to hit .288 with 46 homers.
When he got released by the Rockies in Spring Training last year, Lopez returned to his suburban Atlanta home and relaxed for a few months. Late last summer he began a strict conditioning program. Then in early November, Lopez began working on his defensive skills three times a week with Braves bullpen coach Chino Cadahia.
By the time Spring Training began, many Braves fans were excited about the prospect of him being back in Atlanta this year. But like the veteran catcher, they also had their hopes dashed on Saturday.
"I know the fans of Atlanta are pretty disappointed as well because they were looking forward to seeing him back," Jones said. "The loudest ovations down in Spring Training when anybody ever came to the plate [were] for Javy."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.