Before there were steroids and juiced baseballs, there was a kid from Hastings making a name for himself in Major League Baseball.
In 1939, Johnny Hopp, who later lived in Scottsbluff, made his Major League debut with the St. Louis Cardinals. Hopp would go on to play in the Major Leagues for 14 years.
Hopp is to be inducted into the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame in Beatrice on Feb. 9, 2020. It is a long-overdue honor for the former Major Leaguer. Hopp died June 1, 2003. I’m sure he would have been tickled to have received this honor in his lifetime.
When I was a much younger sports reporter, I had the chance to interview Hopp for a story we were doing for a section of the newspaper called Citizens of the Century.
One of my assignments was to do a story on Hopp. He had invited me to his house, since he rarely left the house any longer. An invitation to the 2020 Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame banquet brought back those fond memories.
Hopp had a lot of memorabilia from his days in the Major Leagues that I wasn’t prepared to see.
On one wall, he had one of the baseball caps he had worn with each of his teams, which included the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers. It was cool to see those old wool hats. They looked very uncomfortable.
He also had a bar in his basement made with Louisville Sluggers he had collected in his playing days. He had bats with names on them like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Yog Berra and Stan Musial. Those were names I had only heard about, being far too young to have ever seen any of them play, except on an old TV show ESPN used to air reruns of called Home Run Derby. Home Run Derby would pair two sluggers against each other. They each got nine at bats. Each strike or foul ball counted as an out and each home run counted as a run.
On a side table, he had a lamp that had a baseball signed by the 1950 New York Yankees, of which he was a member. Luckily, all of the key signatures were still visible including Whitey Ford, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and many others.
He also had many newspaper clippings and caricatures that were more like today’s editorial cartoons that newspapers used to produce of baseball players.
Over his 14-year career, Hopp batted for a .296 average with 46 home runs. He also knocked in 458 RBIs.
1946 was perhaps Hopp’s best year hitting for a .333 average. He finished eighth in voting for the National League MVP award.
My biggest regret is not having met him earlier. When I was just out of the Navy, Hopp had several autograph signing sessions at a local baseball card shop. I’m thankful for the day I did get to spend with him listening to his stories and checking out his memorabilia.