02/21/06 10:00 AM ET
Southpaw piled up the victories
Cooper one of the Negro Leagues' best lefties
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
In a hitter's park, the earned run average might not look all that great. But if you're better than the opposing pitcher, the opportunity to pile up wins is still there.
From 1920 to 1927, Cooper was an ace on the Detroit Stars' pitching staff. The ballpark in Detroit was offense-friendly, but Cooper didn't blink if he happened to be nicked for a run here or two runs there. The left-hander had some dangerous hitters on his side and the ballpark conditions worked in Detroit's favor more times than not.
"In that era, hitting dominated and Detroit's ballpark was certainly tailored to the hitters," Negro Leagues historian James Riley said. "Cooper was a very good left-handed pitcher. He would hold teams at a certain level and his club would provide him with great run support."
Although Riley doesn't rate Cooper with a Willie Foster, considered by some to be the best lefty in Negro Leagues history, there's no mistaking Cooper's productivity with the Stars and later with the Kansas City Monarchs.
Cooper, whose playing career ran from 1920 through 1941, ranked among the top 10 in Negro Leagues history for career wins, strikeouts, shutouts and winning percentage. He was said to be a master at changing speeds and frustrated hitters by keeping them off balance long before the term "crafty lefty" came into vogue.
Cooper's stature with the Stars was so significant that the Monarchs wound up trading five players to bring Cooper to Kansas City. Cooper continued to thrive on the mound and later turned into a successful manager. Under Cooper's tutelage, the Monarchs won three pennants.
Former Monarchs' pitcher Hilton Smith, who became a 2001 Hall of Fame inductee, once cited his manager Cooper among three people -- along with long-time Monarchs' catcher Frank Duncan and Hall of Famer Bullet Joe Rogan -- who had shaped his pro career and put him on a track toward Cooperstown.
"He was a guy who produced consistently for a long time," Riley said. "After Willie Foster, you've got lefties like Cooper, John Donaldson, Dave Brown and Slim Jones. All of them, for various reasons, fall short of Foster in my opinion. But all of them have strong credentials and Cooper is certainly in that category."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.