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Andy "Lefty" Cooper to the HoF

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  • Andy "Lefty" Cooper to the HoF

    From The Detroit Free Press

    OUT OF PRINT: The long journey to the Hall of Fame for Lefty Cooper began with newspaper box scores and a man from Ypsilanti

    July 23, 2006


    The request arrived out of nowhere. Would he help unearth Negro leagues box scores from the Detroit Times printed in the 1920s?

    Dick Clark happily volunteered his time and meticulous eye -- he was already a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

    That was in the early 1980s. A little more than a quarter century later, Clark's Negro leagues discovery, which rose from those faded box scores, is about to get enshrined in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

    And so begins the story of Andy (Lefty) Cooper, who was born in 1898, pitched for the Detroit Stars in the Negro leagues in the '20s, died in 1941 and whose baseball life will be remembered because of a computer analyst from Ypsilanti.

    Cooper has few survivors and fewer who recall his playing days. His only child, Andy Cooper Jr., who lives in Seattle, was 11 when he died. Lefty's brothers and sisters died long ago, and even they didn't know much about their pitching brother -- they were all in Texas while Cooper played up north at a time when cross-country exposure of black baseball stars was decades away.

    Cooper was known in black communities in Detroit -- the Stars played on the east side across the street from Southeastern High School. And he was known in the cities he played in. Beyond that, he was a ghost.

    "You've got to remember," said his son, 77, "anything that pertained to black people back then" has only been "uncovered in recent years."

    On July 30, 17 of those players will be officially enshrined in Cooperstown, a group whittled down from 94 potential electees.

    Cooper Jr. will be there to hear the Hall of Fame brass talk about his father. Clark will be there, too.

    "Sometimes I felt I was the only one who really knew him," Clark said last week.

    He was "overjoyed" when the announcement came in February that Cooper had made it.

    "I was pleasantly surprised that everyone else could see what I saw in the statistics," he said.

    The seeds of which began in those yellowed box scores.

    Finding information
    In the early '80s, when Clark began researching the Negro leagues, he recorded every box score by hand, creating a database. He looked at games from 1919 on, the year before Cooper arrived in Detroit.

    There was minimal information about Cooper outside the numbers. Clark did learn from the stray descriptive sentence or two that Cooper had good size -- 6-foot-2 and roughly 220 pounds -- that he seemed to be durable, rarely missed games, never had any arm problems, would start two games and relieve in one or two more over the course of a typical five-game series.

    "Back in the '20s, when the league was going well, a lot of teams rode by train," he explained. "In a normal series, the team would play a Saturday game, a doubleheader Sunday, then Monday and Tuesday."

    Clark studied the Stars' home field, Mack Park, located on the east side. It was owned by the city, had grandstands and drew upward of 15,000, Clark estimated. It was also a hitter's park, unlike Comerica, with its infinite outfield, and Cooper thrived in it despite the hitter's design.

    Clark delved into Cooper's career and every detail he could find because he knew Cooperstown wanted hard evidence to warrant inclusion. Besides, Cooper wasn't a name like Satchel Paige; he didn't have that aura. But as Clark built his database, Cooper's numbers began jumping at him.

    The lefty won 10 or more games seven times, which is the modern equivalent of 20 wins. He was the all-time leader in saves, but again, that number was calculated differently then, too. He was the all-time leader for the Detroit Stars in every pitching category. He posted a 116-57 record, or about a .670 winning percentage. He had four seasons with an earned-run average of less than three.

    So dominant was Cooper that the famed Kansas City Monarchs traded for him at the end of the 1927 season. They gave the Stars five players.

    Cooper was on the downslope of his pitching career in Kansas City, but he eventually became the manager there, leading the team to three pennants between 1937 and 1940. He got sick the next season and moved back to Texas.

    A son's memories
    Even as Clark uncovered the statistical arc of Cooper's career, not much else was known about him. The Hall of Fame committee in charge of the Negro league project, of which Clark was a part, tracked down Cooper Jr, but his memory was limited to a boy's perspective of his father.

    "I was a batboy for two seasons," Cooper Jr. recalled. "And that was something."

    But he remembered nothing of his on-field presence. He remembered his father as a jolly sort, a happy-go-lucky guy, a man with a wide lap in which Cooper Jr. often took a seat.

    When Cooper became ill in 1940, his mother, who lived in Waco, came to Kansas City to take him home. Cooper Jr. moved in with other relatives -- his mother had died when he was a baby.

    Later that year, when Cooper died from heart failure, Cooper Jr. was swimming at the YMCA in Kansas City.

    "Someone came and told me he died while I was in the water," he said. "I'll never forget that."

    Years later, whenever he traveled to Waco to visit family, he always stopped by the cemetery where his father was buried. As he got older, that's how he came to know him, through a stone on the ground.

    Now that his father is in the Hall of Fame, people have been calling, wanting information.

    "But I don't have it," he said.

    He would like some himself, which is why, when Buck O'Neil called him earlier this year, it was a revelation. O'Neil, now 94, was a first baseman who played for Cooper in Kansas City.

    "He was the only person who ever talked about how good he was," Cooper Jr. said.

    O'Neil told the son that the father understood every nuance of the game, that he used to take O'Neil out for dinner on the road and break down pitchers, and tell him what to expect. He told the son that the father was the kind of guy the young ball players like him thought of as a father.

    "He was an outstanding human being," O'Neil said last week. "And it felt so good when he finally made it."

    In a way, Clark is still stunned that what started as volunteer work 25 years ago ends in Cooperstown on July 30.

    Cooper didn't play in the glamorous cities. He died long before PBS turned its lens onto the Negro leagues.

    He was a pitcher who blew through Detroit at time that very few alive today remember.

    "I really got to do a lot of digging," Clark said.

    From Ypsilanti to Cooperstown, by way of Texas, Detroit and Kansas City, Clark is a link that becomes history in seven days.

    Andy (Lefty) Cooper (BASEBALL HALL OF FAME/Associated Press)
    Meet Lefty
    Who: Andrew Lewis Cooper.

    Inductions: July 30 at Cooperstown, N.Y.

    Born: 1898, in Waco, Texas. Died in 1941.

    Bio: The 6-foot-2 lefty pitched for the Negro leagues' Detroit Stars from 1920-27 before being traded to Kansas City for five players. In nine seasons with the Stars and 10 at K.C., Cooper went 116-57 and was the all-time Negro National League leader in saves (29).

    Baseball historian Dick Clark on Cooper: "In my estimation, the greatest black pitcher ever to pitch for Detroit -- that's for the Stars or the Tigers."

    More inductees
    Hall of Fame inductees
    Other than ex-Detroit Stars pitcher Andy (Lefty) Cooper, three other Hall of Fame inductees have Detroit ties. Seventeen players from the Negro leagues or the era before the leagues were formed will be inducted July 30.

    Pete Hill, whose baseball career began in 1899, played for a touring team in Detroit in 1919, researcher Dick Clark said. He called Hill "one of the top hitters of all time in the dead-ball era." Hill was a player-manager for the Detroit Stars in 1921. Hill batted .391 as the Stars' cleanup hitter in 1921, according to "Shades of Glory."

    Cristobal Torriente played in the Stars outfield in 1927-28 with current Hall of Fame member Turkey Stearnes. Torriente, a Cuban, "was a fabulous outfielder, a tremendous hitter beyond reproach," Clark said.

    Ray Brown pitched part of a season for the Detroit Wolves.

    Others elected: The first woman elected, Effa Manley, co-owner of the Newark Eagles; players Willard Brown, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles, Jud Wilson, Frank Grant, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop and Ben Taylor, and executives Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, J.L. Wilkinson and Sol White.

    Major League inductee: Bruce Sutter. Right-hander led the National League in saves five times and ranks 19th on the all-time list with 300. Had a 2.83 ERA with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves.
    Contact SHAWN WINDSOR at 313-222-6487 or [email protected].
    Attached Files
    Last edited by 2Chance; 07-24-2006, 07:23 PM.
    "Someone asked me if I took steroids. I said, 'No. I had a contract with Wheaties.'"
    --Bob Feller

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