It was 1941 when the St. Louis Cardinals, looking for someone to replace the fleet-footed duo of Pepper Martin and Don Gutteridge, took the shackles off Johnny Hopp.
The Hastings native had been with the club since 1936 and made his debut in 1939, but he had appeared in only half of the games in 1940. A permanent spot in the starting lineup in 1941 allowed him to blossom and grab the attention of teams around the league with a .303 average and 50 RBIs.
One press clipping described Hopp, a first baseman and outfielder, as "a dynamo who, perhaps more than anyone else, typifies the dashing, hell-for-leather play”"of the Cardinals.
Hopp's 14-year career spanned five teams and as many World Series appearances, including back-to-back World Series victories with the Yankees. In all, he won four World Series and was an All-Star in 1946, when he hit .333 and drove in 48 runs for the Boston Braves.
After his playing days, Hopp served as a coach for the Cardinals and Tigers from 1952 to 1957 before returning to Hastings to work as an administrative assistant at Kansas Nebraska Energy. He died in 2003 at age 86.
During his playing days, Hopp was a beloved Nebraska native. In 1950, The World-Herald helped conduct All-Star Game voting in the region. Hopp received the most votes with 3,572. All-time great Ted Williams was second, with 958.
That same year, Hopp set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in addition to becoming the 34th player since 1900 to have six hits in a nine-inning game.
Breaking into the major leagues in his day was no small task. In a 1959 interview, Hopp estimated that 500 players were in the Cardinals organization alone.
Even after his playing days, the itch never left him. Said Hopp: "When it comes training time, we think about going south, renting a cottage on the beach and playing ball again."
Played for: Hastings High, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Probably Mel Harder, a Beemer native who pitched 20 seasons for the Cleveland Indians, winning 223 games and making four All-Star appearances.
Best moment as an athlete: One of the best would have been winning back-to-back World Series with the Yankees in 1950 and 1951, or being voted the most popular player of the World Series in 1941. His best year at the plate was 1950 when he hit .339 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
MLB: 4,807 at-bats, .296 batting average, 698 runs, 46 home runs
Hopp was No. 77 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »