Whatever happened to: Ex-Brave Javy Lopez

What he did: When Javier "Javy" Lopez was growing up in Puerto Rico, he would practice baseball by hitting rocks off the metal roof of his house in Ponce. The loud noise, which used to drive his parents crazy, would eventually lead to Lopez putting his name in the major league record books for most home runs in a season by a catcher, when he hit 43 in his final season with the Braves in 2003.

He was one of Puerto Rico’s better high school players before he signed with the Braves as a free agent in 1987. His size, 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and overall strength excited Braves scouts, as he played two seasons of rookie ball before showing promise at the plate in 1990 and ’91 at the Single-A level, combining those two seasons to hit 22 homers and drive in 106 runs. Then in ’92, he began the season at Double-A Greenville and had hit .321 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs in 115 games. He received a September call-up to Atlanta.

The Braves had found their future catcher, though he spent most of ’93 at Triple-A Richmond, hitting .305 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs. During his September call-up that season, which came during the memorable division race with San Francisco which the Braves took by winning 104 games, Lopez had six hits in 16 at-bats and would open the ’94 strike-shortened season as the Braves starting catcher.

Lopez caught everyone in the rotation in ’94, including Greg Maddux, and played in 105 games during the ’95 world championship season, hitting .315 and while his power numbers (14 homers and 57 RBIs) were just average, he was quickly turning into one of the best young hitting catchers in baseball. He was never known for his defensive skills, but Lopez made one of the bigger plays in the World Series that year when he picked off Manny Ramirez at first base, and he had a combined nine hits in 23 at-bats in the Divisional Series against Colorado and National League Championship Series against Cincinnati.

But something else happened in ’95. He didn’t catch Maddux anymore. There are a lot of different stories of why this happened, including Maddux feeling Lopez didn’t call a good game. But manager Bobby Cox did a good job of not letting this bubble into a big controversy as Lopez wasn’t going anywhere, and in ’96 won the MVP of the NLCS against St. Louis, hitting an incredible .542 (13-for-24) in the series with two homers and six RBIs in the seven-game set.

He made the All-Star team in 1997 and ’98, the latter season hitting 34 homers and driving in 106 runs and leading the league in fielding percentage for catchers (.995).

His best season came in 2003 as a 32-year-old, when he was named the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and broke the record for most homers by a catcher in a single season. He also had 109 RBIs in 129 games and hit .328.

But in the previous offseason, the Braves traded for young catcher Johnny Estrada and the Braves didn’t want to give Lopez a big contract. So he became a free agent, signing a three-year, $22.5 million deal with Baltimore. His first season in 2004 with the Orioles was a success, hitting .316 with 86 RBIs but his career tailed down from there, traded to Boston during the middle of the ’06 season. He played in only 18 games for the Red Sox and was released in September when Jason Varitek came off the disabled list.

The next season it was reported that Lopez was going to play in Colorado, but it never materialized and the following season he signed a minor league deal with the Braves for spring training but retired before the regular season started.

Lopez finished with a career .287 average with 864 RBIs and 260 home runs, which ranks him eighth on the all-time list for catchers. He finished with a fielding percentage of .992 and threw out 28 percent of base stealers. That’s not too bad considering former Brave Brian McCann has always been thought of as a better defensive catcher than Lopez, but has thrown out only 26 percent of base stealers in his career.

Where he lives: Now 44, Lopez lives in Suwanee and is married for a second time, 11 years to Gina. They have two children, Brody and Gavin. He has two kids from his previous marriage to Analy: Javier and Kelvin.

What he does now: Lopez lives a very simple life, spending time with his wife and children and plays in a lot of charity golf tournaments.

On the final out of the 1995 World Series championship season: "I remember Carlos Baerga was at the plate and I called for a fastball away from Mark (Wohlers). We were trying to stay away from the middle of the plate. When it first left his bat I was thinking he hit it hard, but then I saw (center fielder) Marquis (Grissom) pick up on it quickly and knew we had the out. I then remember running to the mound and jumping on Mark. I don't remember much after that.''

On the team chemistry that season: "I think all of us early on that year knew it was going to be special. We were also having a great time and we walked out on the field every night feeling like we were going to win.''

On beating the offensive-loaded Cleveland Indians lineup: "Good pitching always takes care of good hitting. It's always the case.''

On word that his sister Elaine, a great volleyball player, is a better athlete: "I have no problem with that. She was married to Juan Gonzalez for a while and she was really into sports. She also played a lot of beach volleyball and was the best player on the island. She then married an attorney and they have two kids and she opened up her own crossfit place. She is doing very well.''

On not catching Maddux after the 1994 season: "It really was not that big of a deal. I caught the others and two (Glavine and John Smoltz) are in the Hall of Fame. Greg was more comfortable with a veteran catcher. It was just one of those things.''

On his best season in 2003: "People don't give me a lot of credit for my defense, but I also had a good season that year behind the plate. That year everything just seemed to come into place both at the plate and behind it. I always was able to hit and I knew I wasn't the best defensive catcher but I also wasn't the worst. I think I proved that year how complete I could be.''

On not being offered a contract with the Braves after the 2003 season: "I knew when they traded Kevin Millwood for Estrada that they had him as their future catcher. (General manager) John Schuerholz called me right after the season and thanked me for the years and said he really appreciated everything, but that they were not going to offer me a contract. I did appreciate the call.''

On playing in Baltimore: "It was nothing like Atlanta. I played with the Braves so many years, and it was so organized and everything. It was crazy over there. There was no control and the manager always felt pressure from the owner (Peter Angelos). In fact, I think the owner was calling down during the game and making decisions for the manager.''

On retiring: "I think it is like everything else, when you know it is time, you stop. I was very happy with what I did in baseball. I feel good about my accomplishments and it came with an organization that was the best in baseball when I was playing.''