28 March 2012
Reviewing Behind the Plate: Javy Lopez' Biography
Posted by Jon Shepherd
I was recently asked to review Lopez' autobiography, Behind the Plate: a Catcher's View of the Braves Dynasty. In the letter that accompanied the book, I was also informed that Javy is handsome. Sure. However, those of you interested in learning how Javy keeps his good looks...that is not discussed in this book. In fact, this book is more or less a cursory look at his career. You learn of many things that happened to Javy, but not much more than a passing comment. It makes the 184 page book a quick read. I was able to go through it in less than three hours. Lopez and his writing assistant, Gary Caruso, take the catcher's experiences and turn it into a readily accessible conversational style delivery that does not seem to include too many follow up questions.
It piques my interest in many areas. I would certainly like to know more about baseball in Puerto Rico, his experiences in the minors, his only off season as a free agent in search of a deal, and perhaps more about the Orioles clubhouse that Sam Perlozzo ran. Covering so many topics, the book must try to succeed as a light read and rather interesting. Otherwise, Javy would have created a 500 page book. I think I may actually appreciate this book more than the typical reader because it is actually a great companion piece to John Schuerholz's book Built to Win. Schuerholz's book is bogged down as a self-serious and obsessed mess. Javy comes off as far more genuine and down to earth documentation of the Braves' run with a perspective that feels as if he was sharing with you a cleanly scrubbed version of his soul. I think both are poor self evaluators, but Javy appears more humble about things.
The Orioles appear in one chapter toward the end. It reads as if Javy felt that he had to address his entire career. It is rather bare boned. It begins with Lopez firmly being told that the Braves will not negotiate with him and he needs to seek employment elsewhere. He glosses over his selection of Baltimore except to mention he did his best to wind up in the NL West. Javy spends a little time discussing the end of his run with Baltimore. Javy clearly is upset with the Orioles. He states that they pointlessly rushed him back from a broken hand and then misled him about his role on the team in 2006. He further suggests that the Orioles proceeded to ignore him during the last Spring Training of his three year deal. It was peculiar in that it makes the Orioles appear to be so dysfunctional in their communication with someone who had to be on their 25 man roster. The same player who they supposedly offered a 3 MM extension that same off season. It made me wish I could read Sam Perlozzo's take on what transpired. Javy is speaking from his heart, but he may not have been aware of the entire situation or he fell victim to a misunderstanding.
Bottom line . . . even though this is really a book about the Braves, I do think you should read it. It is not a pure rah-rah book like many sports biographies are. He tries to describe what he experienced without being sensational. There is a place for that.
A few more thoughts . . .
Javy Lopez might be one of the most underrated catchers in baseball history. If you look at his oWAR at Baseball Reference, he had a career rating of 30.5 along with a dWAR of -2.6. The calculations of dWAR leave a lot to desire, particularly with catchers. Recently, there was an article in Baseball Prospectus that look at how catchers affected their pitchers. It found that over Javy's career, that he was worth about 20 wins on defense. That would put him right in the top ten catchers of all time and make a strong case for him being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Who knew? I surely did not. When Javy arrived with the Orioles, I saw a catcher with adequate defense and a plus bat for a catcher. His second season, it looked like his bat speed collapsed. It could have been the result of him breaking his hand. His stiff movements behind the plate proceeded the injury. The Orioles inferred that the team needed an upgrade at catcher and signed Ramon Hernandez. Lopez had a rough final season, was dealt to Boston, and then was released shortly thereafter. I had thought I witnessed the downward portion of a very good baseball player. It looks like I sold him a bit short if the methodology in the BP article is sound.
It makes me wish I would have paid more attention to TBS.