Thursday, March 28, 2013

#523 - Cecil Cooper

Like JR Richard, Cecil Cooper had a rookie card in ’72 and then nothing in ’73, pretty much for the same reasons as JR. And while Coop didn’t come out of the MLB gate as quickly as JR did, he sure made his mark down the road. He had a typically very good year at Triple A Pawtucket in ’73 when late that August he was summoned back to The Show to play first base. That move was mandated by an injury to Rico Petrocelli that required both Carl Yastrzemski and Danny Cater, the regular guys at first base, to move to third to cover Rico’s absence. Cecil’s resulting .238 (baseball-reference) or .242 (Topps) average didn’t drive anyone too crazy but the glove work was pretty good and he really didn’t have anything left to prove in the minors so it would be Cecil’s final time at that level. That looks like either Tommy Harper or Reggie Smith taking cuts in the spring training cage behind him.

Cecil Cooper grew up in Brenham, Texas, where he attended an all-black high school called Pickard where he twice won state titles. He then went to integrated Brenham High where he graduated in ’68 and was taken by the Red Sox in the sixth round. He wasted little time in establishing himself as a hitter, batting .452 that summer in A ball. He spent the next two-plus years at that level where he put up great averages but it took a while for the Sox to get used to a line-drive hitting first baseman. About a third of the way through ’71 Cecil moved up to Double A Pawtucket where he turned up the power a notch before he made his debut in Boston. He hit quite well in his few September games and then spent ’72 in Triple A Louisville where he continued to maintain his newfound power. In ’73 at that same level he moved to the middle part of the line-up, cut his strikeouts nearly in half, and maintained his RBI numbers in a bunch less at bats. When things got messy in the Boston infield that summer he got called up for good.

By the mid-Seventies Carl Yastrzemski was making first base his primary position so when Cooper took his spot in the line-up, it was in the DH role as much as it was at first. His first season in Boston he pretty much reprised what he did in the minors: pretty good averages with not too much power. In ’74 he hit .275 with 43 RBI’s in 414 at bats. In ’75 Cecil got a lung infection during spring training and missed enough time to allow rookie Jim Rice to take over the DH spot. But when Rice got hurt in September – he missed the post-season – Cecil took over first while Yaz moved to the outfield. In about half a season Cooper hit 14 homers with 44 RBI’s while batting .311. He then torched Oakland at a .400 clip in the playoffs but cooled down in the Series. In ’76 he hit .282 with 78 RBI’s in 451 at bats split between first and DH. After the season the Sox went looking for a power guy to try to keep up with the Yankees, who’d signed Reggie Jackson. So Boston got George Scott and Bernie Carbo back from the Brewers in a deal for Coop.

Cooper’s first season with the Brewers began pretty well as the team had a hot start in April and was still right around .500 – a big uptick to its last couple seasons – at the end of June. But the summer was a disaster and Cecil, pressed to fill Boomer’s old role, pressed a bit at the plate, recording over 100 strikeouts the only time in his career. Still, he finished with his best season to that point: .300 with 20 homers and 78 RBI’s in 160 games. With Milwaukee it was all first base and in ’78 the Brew Crew got a new manager in George Bamberger who turned things around fast. The team was going gangbusters in mid-June when Coop, hitting .313 at the time, broke his leg after a collision with Bob Bailor. He finished the season at .312 but the power took a big hit as his RBI total dropped to 54 in just over 100 games. But the Crew was winning now and nobody from that point on would be more emblematic of the team’s fortunes than Cecil. In ’79 he hit .308 while leading the AL with 44 doubles. He hit 24 out and had 106 RBI’s and was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner for the first time. In ’80 he upped things to .352/25/122, his RBI totals leading the league. He also put up his best OBA of .387 and won his first of three successive Silver Sluggers. In the strike year of ’81 he hit .320 and again led the AL with 35 doubles. The Crew went to the playoffs the first time that year and Cecil got three RBI’s in the five games. In the Series year of ’82 he hit .313 with his season-best 32 homers and 121 RBI’s and then hit .286 with six RBI’s against the Cards. In ’83 he was pretty much the only guy on his team to maintain his offense as he hit .307 with 30 homers and an MLB-best 126 RBI’s. He slowed down a ton in ’84 as the Brewers continued to slide, hitting .275 and nearly halving his RBI total. After a nice bounce in ’85 - .293 with 99 RBI’s – he put in another year in ’86 as the regular guy at first and then finished things up in ’87 as a DH. Coop hit .298 for his career with over 2,000 hits, 415 doubles, 241 homers, and 1,125 RBI’s. He hit .302 as a Brewer and still has a couple team hitting records. In the post-season he hit .211 with 15 RBI’s in 25 games. He won two Gold Gloves, the three Silver Sluggers, and was an All-Star five times.

Cooper was a busy guy both in the off-season and after he played. He went to local schools early in his career to get a degree and did lots of community work in Boston and Milwaukee. In ’84 he won the Roberto Clemente Award for humanitarianism. After he retired in ’87 he became a sports agent with his former agency, Coordinated Sports Management, based in Chicago. He did that through ’96 and then returned to the Brewers fold where he scouted and was minor league hitting director. In 2002 he coached up top for the Brewers and from ’03 to ’04 managed in the Milwaukee system, going 130-156. In ’05 he went to Houston where he was a coach under Phil Garner and then succeeded Garner as manager in late ’07. He kept that gig through late ’09 when he was let go after going 171-170. In 2010 he interviewed for the Mariners manager job and since then may or may not have reunited with his old agency boss, who took him to the 2012 winter meetings. I do not believe he is currently affiliated with any team.

Coop’s career numbers are pretty huge once it hits home that he played at around 165-170 at 6’2”. That’s awfully thin for a power guy. In late ’70 the Cards nabbed him in the Rule 5 draft but then released him prior to the ’71 season back to Boston. That qualifies as an “oops.” He has another interesting middle name.

An Astro hurler and an Astro manager get hooked up here:

1. Cooper and Don Sutton ’82 to ’84 Brewers;
2. Sutton and Jose Cruz ’81 to ’82 Astros;
3. Cruz and J.R. Richard ’75 to ’80 Astros.

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