Book Review: Javy Lopez's Autobiography

There aren't a lot of things I really remember about former catcher Javy Lopez's time with the Orioles. I was excited when he signed. It was a part of an offseason spending spree that promised my then-18 year old self that "things were finally going to be different". He seemed to come to the Orioles with promise and then become weary and disappointing and then left quietly, traded for outfielder-nobody-ever-heard-of Adam Stern. A couple years ago, Nestor Aparicio told me about Lopez showing up at the dilapidated spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale and being stunned at the state of the Orioles. I guess I can buy that story.

Lopez has a memoir out now: Behind the Plate (written with Gary Caruso). What I'm struggling with is identifying exactly who this book was intended for. Lopez is not a writer; the book reads like an extended interview done by a former pro athlete whose first language was not English. That's charming in its lack of pretentiousness, but frustrating on many other levels. The words come off stilted and devoid of the tension that natural storytellers easily imbue into their work. From the chapter "Transition", about his experience with free agency:

Age is what killed me. [The Padres] could have had me. I was going to be 33 years old. [Ramon Hernandez] was only 27. He got two years for $7 million. That was why. He was there for two years, and then he went to Baltimore, where I was.

I hoped I'd get a call from the Dodgers. They were so focused on getting Vladimir Guerrero, who was a free agent. Ivan Rodriguez was a free agent too. Benji Molina was a free agent. And me. Nice year to be a free agent! I wound up getting three year for $22.5 million from Baltimore, and I really appreciate the confidence they showed in me.

Each chapter deals with an interesting topic in and of itself. Topics are brought up that I'm either terribly interested in learning more about, like the way the Puerto Rico baseball culture changed when it was added to the Rule IV draft, or topics I've already taken in information on but crave more of, like the added pressure of being a Latin American player in the minor leagues. That topic was covered wonderfully by the movie Sugar (go watch that now. I'll wait.) and even featured a common scene as in Behind the Plate, as a Latin player embarrassingly struggles ordering breakfast in a diner in East Nowhere, USA.

But none of Lopez's personal musings on these topics really dig satisfyingly deep. He brushes up against the way the Sam Perlozzo/Mike Flanagan Orioles were run, and paints them as either inept, malicious towards their players, or both, but that's basically the whole of his comment. The book reads like a single interview done in preparation for a series of other really good, in-depth books.

So who is Behind the Plate for? It's telling that the co-author, Gary Caruso, is described as a "sports journalist, Braves historian, and author of The Braves Encyclopedia". This is a book for Braves fans eager to forget the bleak ending of last season and remember the glory days of Maddux, Smoltz, 1995, and Javy Lopez. There's no shame in that, and Javy comes off as personable a baseball hero as a Braves fan could want. But that's no selling point for us Orioles fans.

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