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Putting Al Lopez in stone

Soon after the destruction of Al Lopez Field began in 1989, Tony Saladino started thinking of ways to give Lopez back some of the recognition stripped away by the wrecking ball. Nearly two years later, Saladino has started a group, "Friends of Al Lopez," which hopes to erect a life-sized statue of Tampa's first inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Saladino, well-known in the area for his contributions to youth baseball, is chairman of the group, which will have an organizational meeting at 7:30 p.m. on June 25. The meeting will be held at the Holiday Inn Stadium, in the Tampa Bay Room.

The goal is to raise enough money to hire a sculptor, find some land and erect the statue.

"Personally, I think he (Lopez) was devastated when the stadium was torn down, but he's not the kind of man that would go out and pop off about it," Saladino said. "He's the only man in history to outlive a monument built in his honor, and there was nothing in lieu of (the destruction)."

Said Lopez: "Naturally, at the time the stadium was torn down, I thought they were going to build a bigger and a better one. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I think it would be a great honor to have a statue built in my honor."

Saladino said he isn't sure how much money it will cost to build the statue, but said he plans on contacting Atlanta Fulton County Stadium before the first meeting to find out an approximate cost of the Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron statues erected there.

"If I had to estimate, I would say it will be in the $25,000 to $30,000 range," Saladino said. "But there's no way to know right now because the type of statue and the site will all figure into the cost."

Saladino said that he would prefer the statue be erected in front of the new Hockey Stadium, but that Ybor City (where Lopez grew up) or the Franklyn Street Mall would be suitable alternatives.

"It would be nice to put the statue on the site of the old stadium," Saladino said. "It would be especially appropriate because it will be near Tampa Stadium and the new hockey stadium, so a lot of people interested in sports will come by."

Lopez was 19 when he broke into the big leagues as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1928. He played for the Dodgers until 1935, then moved on to play for the Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians. During his playing career, Lopez set a major-league record of catching 1,918 games. That mark stood for 31 years before Bob Boone broke it in 1987.

Lopez was just as successful in the dugout. As manager of the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, Lopez won 1,422 games and ended his managing career with a .581 winning percentage. His Indians of 1954 and White Sox of 1959 were the only teams to stand between the New York Yankees and 16 straight American League pennants, from 1949-64. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

For more information about joining "Friends of Al Lopez," or attending the meeting, call Saladino at 684-2255.