Chopp always went all out
SWEDETOWN – Larry Chopp has a clear memory of the last baseball game he played in with his father Hubert.
“I had just turned 50 and was eligible to play for the Wolverine Oldtimers,” Chopp recalled recently. “They put both of us in the outfield, even though it was one of his (Hubert’s) last games. I remember a ball hit in between us in right center by a Portage Lake player.
“My Dad actually got to the ball before I did … and that surprised a lot of people, including me. But he tossed the ball to me and just said to throw it back in.”
Hubie Chopp always possessed above-average speed and used it to good advantage in a career that spanned five decades.
Playing for teams in Copper City, South Range, L’Anse, Hancock and others, Chopp patrolled the outfield with consistent efficiency.
The late Mike Bukovich, a teammate in South Range for several years, said Chopp usually was the fastest man on the field.
“Hubie used his speed to good effect,” Bukovich recalled a few years ago. “If he (Chopp) got to the ball, he was going to catch it … he was a flyhawk.”
Now 96 years old, Chopp said he played at any position on the field.
“If they wanted me to catch, I did that. Shortstop was the same thing. If they needed me in the outfield, I went there,” he said. “It didn’t matter to me, as long as I was playing.”
He started playing the game as a youngster in the 1930s for his hometown Copper City team. The northend had its own league in those days, every small town putting out a squad.
After working in the Conservation Corps camps, he joined the Army in 1940 and quickly became a fixture on several service teams.
While stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, Chopp gained a reputation as one of the top players on the Forti Copperheads team.
His manager, Leo Forti, was impressed with his speed and timely hitting. In fact, Chopp led the local league in hitting in 1943 and posted an overall .543 average in two seasons for Forti’s teams.
In one memorable game, the Copperheads edged a team led by Lou Berberet, who would later play in the major leagues.
“The main thing about Chopp is that he always hustled,” Forti told one local newspaper. “He never once let up.”
Chopp said one of his fondest memories was playing against a group of major league barnstormers in 1949.
“I was playing for South Range at the time when Dizzy Trout brought his team here for an exhibition,” he recalled. “It was a cold day but it was a lot of fun.”
The big leaguers on hand that October day included Trout, George Kell, Virgil Trucks and Don Lund of the Detroit Tigers, Roy Sievers of Washington, Cass Michaels of Cleveland and Elmer Valo of Philadephia.
Hubie, who still has a baseball signed by the barnstormers, was particularly impressed by Trucks, who would hurl two no-hit games for Detroit in 1952.
“Trucks was a tough customer, he had a great fastball and a sharp breaking curveball,” he recalled. “We weren’t going to hit him unless he wanted us to.”
The major leaguers took an 4-2 victory at the South Range ballpark before some 2,000 fans.
One of the highlights was a long homer hit by the colorful Trout after he bet a local businessman $5 that he would connect for the circuit.
Chopp continued to play ball for a number of local teams and ended his career with Copper City. He was also an above average hockey player, playing for several local squads.
In his last oldtimers game at the age of 86, Chopp grounded a single to left.
It was a fitting end to a long and colorful career.