Javier Lopez is more than a side-arming journeyman left-hander. The 33-year-old Pirates reliever is also a family man and a former player representative to the Major League Baseball Players Association with a degree in psychology. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Lopez has made 390 big-league appearances, 47 this year.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself?
Javier Lopez: I like to think that I’m more than just a baseball player. My wife and I just had our first child, a girl, so I guess I’m turning into even more of a family man than I thought I was before. I really enjoy spending time with both of them. Baseball is my work, and when it’s over I can go home and just watch my baby grow, and see her smile, and that kind of life is something that I really look forward to.
DL: You have a college degree. Does that allow you to look at the game, and life after baseball, any differently than some other players?
JL: I can’t speak for all players, but I know that for me it’s nice to know that I‘ve finished my college education from a good university, the University of Virginia. That was one of the commitments that I made, and one of the promises that I made, that I would do that before I got married. I had to see that through and I will never have anything bad to say about college, because I think that it’s one of the better things that you can do in your life. I know that some of the guys have skipped that, and it’s their choice, but a lot of times it’s more for financial reasons than anything else, along with the opportunities that presented themselves. For me, I needed those years away from home and it helped to set me up for the future, for sure.
DL: You were the Rockies player representative in 2004 and 2005. What did you learn from that experience?
JL: The thing about being a player rep, which intrigued me at the time, was that the [MLBPA] was always described as—and this was even before I began playing baseball—the strongest union in the world. That kind of intrigued me, so I wanted to get in there and see what they were talking about. Major League Baseball players all have to pay their dues—every month we’re paying dues to the union—and I was interested to know where that money was going and what the overall objective, the mission statement, of the union was all about. For that reason, I decided to try it out for a little while and I’m happy that I did. I learned a little bit about the collective bargaining agreement and am now more in tune with what is going on. That said, it wasn’t a job that I relished keeping, because of the time constraints, and time demands, that are put on the reps when it comes close to bargaining time.
DL: Do the majority of players pay close attention to, or even care about, most of the information provided to them by their player reps?
JL: No, I don’t think so, although some are naturally curious. When you’re having a significant chunk taken out of your paycheck, some people might look over their statement and wonder, “Hey, where is this money going?” but others might just look at it and brush it off like it’s not a big deal. A lot of the guys in the locker room are thinking that it will take care of itself, that it will handle itself. They figure that someone will step up and do the negotiating for them, although it really affects all of us.
Mike Weiner is in charge now, and that’s really what he’s been trying to drive home to all of the ballclubs during spring training, that this is our union. We have committees, and those guys ultimately decide, but they speak for all of us and if you have any grievances, or anything like that, you should feel free to call the union. They’ve really opened up the door the past few years, since Mike has taken over, and have let everyone know that this is our thing and that nobody is too big or too small to make a phone call.
DL: There are 30 player reps. Do some wield more influence than others?
JL: Well, I suppose you defer to the people who have been around for awhile. I did it for two years, and when I was there, I was more of an eyes-and-ears-open kind of guy. I didn’t always know what was going on exactly; I was just trying to take in as much information as I could. At the time, Tony Clark, Mark Loretta, and Craig Counsell would speak about their experiences as a player rep and what the union meant to them. They’d convey a lot of information, and when you’re in that type of situation you kind of defer to the experience.
DL: Did you ever observe anything that you disagreed with and felt was bad for the game?
JL: I don’t know if I had any problems with the game so much. Honestly, what it came down to—and I didn’t really experience this until I was in Boston—was the travel that the Red Sox had compared to some other clubs. That’s the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, and other big-market clubs that are in demand—the Phillies and the Cardinals, too—for ESPN night games. Those Sunday-night games, and Monday- and Wednesday-night baseball games—you’re continually getting those later games, because you draw well.
We got into a couple of situations in Boston where we had a Sunday night game that started at 8 and then we had to fly to the West Coast to play Oakland the following night after pulling into town at 5 in the morning. With some other clubs, that demand isn’t as great, so they’ll more often play a day game on travel day.
Little things like that, I hadn’t paid attention to, and they’re interesting because they affect teams and you see how [player representatives] will fight for things like that. With 30 reps, you get a point of view from every team, which opens up your thought process a little bit. It was kind of cool to see the inner workings of not only what happens on the field, but off of it as well.
DL: What about something like having teams open the season in Japan?
JL: Nothing is done without it first being passed by the executive board, but you get wind of what the board and Major League Baseball are trying to do. Playing a game overseas is an example. You’re told that it’s going to happen and who the two clubs are that they’d like to have on those trips, so everybody has a heads up. And you do kind of want to spread the game out, so I think you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find a guy who would say no to an opportunity to travel overseas. It’s obviously a heck of a commitment, but if it’s good for the game, you’ll find a lot of guys on board with it.
DL: On a much smaller scale, earlier this year you were involved in a game that was finally postponed at 10:30 p.m. after a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay. What say did the players have in that decision?
JL: The union doesn’t really get involved until the game is basically going to be called, at least from what I remember. Basically, you hang around and hang around, and it’s the team’s call, and the logistics of playing the game or not comes down to things like off days. The Cubs are in our division, which helped that night, but we had 20 games in a row, and I think they were also in a 20-game streak, and you can’t play more than 20 in a row at the big-league level without having the whole team vote on it. That is what happened, and while they were trying to get the field ready to possibly squeak in five innings, we weren’t guaranteed that was going to happen, so ultimately we decided to play the game at another time.
Once the umpires and our team president, and somebody who was representing the Cubs, deemed the field unplayable and they called the game, the union would have gotten involved to figure out which day was going to work best for both clubs. I believe that it’s (Weiner's top assistant) Gene Orza who gets involved with the scheduling, and our rep is Paul Maholm, and our alternate is Ross Ohlendorf, so those guys were probably talking to Gene Orza about the best time to make up the game. We had a mutual off day with the Cubs coming up, so they came back into town to get the game in then.
DL: Post-season schedules, and the impact that television has on when the games are played, has been an issue. Where do most players stand on that?
JL: Yes, post-season schedules have been an issue in recent years and I think most players feel that the length of the commercials interferes with the flow of the games. That being said, I feel that if you are lucky enough to be in the postseason, the team can make that adjustment. It seems to be an issue with no clear-cut resolution because of the amount of money involved for that ad space.
DL: The PED scandal is mostly behind us, but it was a pretty hot topic when you were a player rep. What were those discussions like?
JL: It was often the topic that ate up most of the time in those meetings. The PED topic was something that, as players, we needed to address. In order to make our sport reputable we owed it to the fans and to our union as a whole to clean up the sport. It was tough at that time, because the specific effects of the drugs were just not clear. For some players it might have made them better, while others seemed to not benefit. All in all, I feel the drug testing that we have in place is really tough to try to elude. I feel that all players are happy to have it in place.
DL: Umpires and instant replay has seemingly replaced PEDs as the game’s hottest topic. Where do most players, and the union, stand on that issue?
JL: That is a tough call. I feel that if we have the technology, why not use it, but on the other hand, human error is something that makes sports great. It gives you something to talk about at work or at barbecues. I think that if you ask players if they want replay, they would tell you no. The pace of play would really suffer, and exactly what would be up for review, and what would be out, would be troubling to pick. This will be an issue especially after seeing how some fouls and goals were missed during the recent World Cup. The technology was there and not used. I feel players would like to see it in the postseason because of the importance of the games. We will wait and see.
DL: It is often said that there are a lot of politics in baseball. Do you agree that there are?
JL: That’s a great question, as to whether there are politics involved, and I would say that when you look at this, it is a business. If you’re running a business, you’re going to want things done a certain way, and that goes for the union and ownership alike. They’re going to want to see things through in a certain way, and I don’t know how much that really turns into politics, but ultimately it’s a business and you try to do what’s best for both parties. Of course, sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.