Big-league pitcher's career shattered by a batted ball
Arthur J. Lopatka Sr., of Elk Grove Village, died of congestive heart failure March 10 at the Alexian Brothers Medical Center in that suburb. He was 87.
Mr. Lopatka had three successful years with farm teams for the St. Louis Cardinals before making it to the majors in 1945. Five of his 12 victories for the Columbus Red Birds in 1944 were shutouts. The next year, he was 11-13 before being called up by the Cards.
His major league debut was Sept. 12, 1945, against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a double header, and the story goes that Mr. Lopatka wasn't supposed to pitch until the second game.
On game day, Cardinals manager Billy Southworth noticed the rookie had a bad case of jitters, Southworth told him, "Listen, kid, you're going to pitch the first game. You would be a nervous wreck by the time we start the second game." So he pitched a 3-2 victory.
able to come back'
After finishing 1945 at St. Louis, he was selected off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was injured, according to his son Arthur J. Lopatka Jr.
"He was pitching batting practice, and he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Del Ennis," Arthur Lopatka Jr. said. "I guess they didn't provide the right medical service for the players because they weren't millionaires back then. The injury was on his pitching hand, so he was never able to come back."
Ennis went on to make the All-Star team that year. Mr. Lopatka was released by the Phillies in February 1948 and sued the team for $250,000 that August, charging he did not receive proper treatment for a broken finger. The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
"Being traded to the Phillies gave him the opportunity to meet my mother, Irene Witomski,'' the son said. "She was a Philadelphia girl. She passed away 30 years ago."
In 1949, Mr. Lopatka was appointed business manager of the Hornets.
"The football position with the Hornets came through his connections," his son said.
"He knew a lot of people in the athletics business. And he had a degree from the University of Chicago."
Following his year in football, Mr. Lopatka began a career in management of various sales companies, including Velcro and a glassless mirror made from reflective plastic. He retired in the mid-1980s.
When Mr. Lopatka talked about his days in big-league baseball, he would fondly mention the time Joe DiMaggio bought him a drink after a game, or Ted Williams told him at practice, "'Hey, Leftie, I hope I never have to face you. You've got a good curveball,'" Mark Lopatka said.
Other survivors include Mr. Lopatka's wife, Annette; his daughter, Mara C. McDermott, five stepchildren and seven grandchildren.
Services were Wednesday, with burial in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside.