Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Championship Marriage of Ray Knight and Nancy Lopez

One of the most popular sports marriages of the 80s involved this couple, who both won championships during their time together.
by Rich Watson

In modern World Series history, third baseman Ray Knight will forever be remembered as the player who scored the winning run in one of the most improbable comebacks ever: Game 6 of the 1986 Fall Classic. 

The Mets came back from within one strike of losing the Series to the Red Sox and not only won the game but the Series as well. Knight was named MVP for his efforts: a .391 batting average with five RBI.

It was the highlight of a fourteen-year career in which he was named an All-Star twice. For a longer span, though, Knight was also known as the husband of a golf legend: Nancy Lopez.

Lopez’ astonishing career

Lopez joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour in 1977 and was a dominant force within it throughout her twenty-six year career: 

  • LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year for 1978,
  • three-time LPGA Championship winner,
  • four-time LPGA Tour Player of the Year,
  • two-time AP Female Athlete of the Year, and
  • a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Former LPGA commissioner Ray Volpe has said about her:
…I’ve seen a lot of athletes freak out, treat people like garbage or distance themselves. Never Nancy Lopez. When I’m under pressure, I think about her. Still to this day when I’m asked about my experiences with professional athletes, she is by far the nicest I’ve ever known.

The early days of Knight and Lopez’ relationship 

Knight and Lopez met in 1978, during her rookie season with the LPGA. He was with the Reds, replacing Pete Rose at third base. At the time she was married to Cincinnati sportscaster Tim Melton. Knight was going through a divorce. He was friends with Lopez and Melton.

Lopez and Melton’s marriage struggled when Melton took a new job in Houston in the early 80s. As luck would have it, Knight was traded to the Astros in 1981. He comforted Lopez during her marital struggles. By the fall of 1982 Lopez and Melton were divorced and she and Knight were married. Knight had a son, Brooks, from his previous marriage.

In a 1986 interview with Sports Illustrated, Lopez indicated she was much happier having married another athlete:
“I think if professional athletes were all married to other professional athletes, it would make for better marriages,” she says. “Athletes are better suited to each other. When I married my first husband, I worried that he was marrying me for my money. I think any athlete who’s successful wonders if someone is marrying them for their money. With Ray that was obviously never a concern…. Ray never pressured me not to go anywhere to play golf, and I had often felt that pressure from Tim. There were times when Tim asked me not to leave.”
In 1983 Knight and Lopez had their first of three children, daughter Ashley.

1985: a banner year for Lopez

Lopez won the first of her LPGA titles in 1978, winning by six strokes over Amy Alcott. It was her fourth of five consecutive tour wins. In 1985 she returned to the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center in Cincinnati and won again, by eight strokes over Alice Miller. 

It was part of a year in which she won five tournaments, her third LPGA Player of the Year award as well as her third Vare Trophy for the tour’s lowest scoring average. It was considered a comeback of sorts given the promise of her initial two seasons.

She credited Knight for backing her up. By that time he had been traded again, to the Mets, and would go see her play whenever he could. He was happy to do so:
“I love her very much and I know how important golf is to her. When she doesn’t play well, I see how she suffers. I just felt it was time that she go out there and subject herself enough so that she could play quality golf, the kind of golf I knew that she could play. So many people had written her off and said she was not the player she once was. But I knew she was, and all she had to do was rededicate herself.”
By the end of the year, the couple expected their second child. While she was two months pregnant, Lopez won a tournament, the J&B Scotch Pro-Am.

Knight has a comeback of his own in 1986

Knight had been plagued by injuries prior to coming to New York. After thinking he would be the regular third baseman in 1985, he had to platoon with the younger Howard Johnson. The Mets had considered releasing Knight.

In 1986, a change in his batting stance, facilitated by Mets hitting coach Bill Robinson, led to better production, plus a renewed aggressiveness

In a July game at Cincinnati, Knight, a former Golden Gloves boxer, got into a fight with Red Eric Davis, who had stolen third. This led to a massive, bench-clearing brawl between both teams. The fight was characteristic of New York that season, who played with a swagger that intimidated some teams and infuriated others.

Knight finished the regular season hitting .298 with 76 RBI and won the National League Comeback Player of the Year award. He also had a second daughter, Erinn. Then came the playoffs.

The 1986 postseason 

The Mets faced the Astros for the NL pennant. They had led in games 3-2, but the two losses were to pitcher Mike Scott, who had a dominant, Cy Young-winning season and would receive the Series MVP award despite playing for the losing team. In Game 6, at the Houston Astrodome, the Astros started the ninth inning leading 3-0 with the prospect of Scott starting a potential Game 7 looming.

A three-run rally by New York was capped by a sacrifice fly by Knight to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Both teams scored single runs in the fourteenth inning. In the sixteenth, Knight hit an RBI single that began another three-run rally. Houston scored two runs in the bottom of the inning but came up short. The Mets won the game and the Series.

In the World Series, Boston had led in games 3-2. In Game 6, at Shea Stadium, they had led 5-3 in the tenth inning, but the Mets rallied again. Knight, who had an RBI single and a walk so far, hit another RBI single in the tenth, with two out. That made the score 5-4. Mookie Wilson was the next batter, with the tying run on third and Knight, the winning run, on first. 

The rest was history.

In Game 7, Knight hit a home run to break a 3-3 tie in the seventh. New York won the game, 8-5, and the championship.

Later years

Despite his postseason heroics, Knight and the Mets management couldn’t agree on a new contract and in 1987, he left the team for Baltimore. He would play one more season, with Detroit in 1988, before retiring. In later years he would return to the Reds as a manager, replacing his former Mets skipper Davey Johnson. He also became a broadcaster for ESPN and the Nationals.

Lopez, meanwhile, continued winning tournaments. In 1986 she started the Nancy Lopez Hospice Golf Classic to support a hospice in Albany, Georgia, where she and Knight lived. She won her third LPGA title in 1989. In 1991 she would once again win a tournament, the Sara Lee Classic, while pregnant. She gave birth to her third daughter, Torri, in October. Lopez would finish her career with 48 LPGA Tour wins and 53 overall. 

In 2009, after twenty-seven years together, Knight and Lopez divorced. A source said “they no longer share the same interests.” In 2013 they had roads in Albany named after them

Lopez currently lives in Florida with her third husband, Ed Russell, while Knight lives in his native Georgia. A level of love and respect still exists between them. At the ceremony for the road naming, Knight said, “The only thing wrong [with the signs] is that I am on the top. She should be on the top.”


Have you seen either Knight or Lopez play?


  1. Honestly, names I have not thought of in ages. I love the story you told of their relationship. It provides much to think of, and to remember.

  2. At the time all I knew was that Nancy Lopez was a famous golfer. Until I put this together I had no idea how big a superstar she was (and is)—and I don’t even follow golf!