Cecil Cooper

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Cecil Celester Cooper

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Biographical Information[edit]

"Cecil Cooper can beat you with a home run or a flare to left or a bunt. And he can field his position. You have guys who can hit home runs and guys who can hit singles. But not many can do both. Cecil can." - Sal Bando


Once dubbed the "Rodney Dangerfield of Baseball" by Baseball Digest for the lack of praise lavished upon him, Cecil Cooper was an under-the-radar star for 17 seasons, primarily with the Milwaukee Brewers. Coop was a five-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger and two-time Gold Glove winner.

Cooper was born in Texas and drafted out of high school in the 6th round of the 1968 amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox. He spent his entire minor league career in the Red Sox organization, as well as his first six major league seasons. With the Jamestown Falcons of the New York-Penn League in 1968, he hit .452 in 84 at bats. The next year, with the Greenville Red Sox in the Western Carolinas League, he hit .297/~.320/.387. In 1970, with the Danville Warriors, a co-op team in the Midwest League, he hit .336/~.418/.433 and made the All-Star team, winning the MWL batting crown. In 1971, at 21, he split his time between A, AA, and the majors. With the Winston-Salem Red Sox, he hit .379/~.457/.575 as he started to hit the long ball (6 home runs in 153 at bats). With the Pawtucket Red Sox in the Eastern League, he hit .343/~.388/.493 with 10 home runs in 367 at bats. Coming up to the majors for his debut, he kept his string of .300 performances intact, as he hit .310 in 14 games with four doubles and a triple.

Unfortunately for Cecil, "Boomer" George Scott owned first base for the Red Sox, having been the regular there since 1966. The Red Sox traded Scott after the 1971 season, but inexplicably chose to deal relief ace Sparky Lyle to the New York Yankees and put Danny Cater at first base, where he hit .237 in 1972. The Red Sox were full of strong performers, such as Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, Luis Aparicio, Ben Oglivie, Carlton Fisk, Dwight Evans, Rico Petrocelli, and Tommy Harper and came within a half-game of winning a division title in 1972. The pitching staff included Luis Tiant and Bill Lee. Cecil was back in the minors that year, this time in Triple A with the Louisville Colonels, where he hit .315/~.372/.468 with 31 doubles, 9 triples and 10 homers, making another All-Star team. He lost the International League batting title to Al Bumbry but led the league in doubles and hits (162). He came up to the parent club for 12 games, hitting .235/.316/.294. In 1973, back in Triple A at Pawtucket, he hit .293/~.364/.458 with 15 home runs and made his third minor league All-Star team. He was second in the IL again in average, trailing teammate Juan Beniquez by five points, and even stole 11 bases in 12 tries.

Cecil finally came up for good in August. The designated hitter position had been created and Orlando Cepeda was being used there, while Carl Yastrzemski played first base more than anyone else. Cooper played 30 games, hitting .238/.284/.347 with 3 home runs. Despite that modest performance, the next year, 1974, he was up for the whole year as he had nothing left to prove in the minors. He played 121 games and batted .275/.327/.396 with 8 home runs. He and Yastrzemski split the first base duties, and Cooper played some designated hitter along with Tommy Harper. In 1975, Cooper surged forward. In 106 games, he posted averages of .311/.355/.544, used at DH more than at first base while batting a lot of lead-off. In the World Series, he went 1-for-19 against the Cincinnati Reds. The next year, 1976, his last with the Red Sox, he slipped a bit to .282/.304/.457 with more playing time, belting 15 home runs and driving in 78 runs. While Cooper had shown a lot of talent, he had not truly broken through. He would get to do that with the Milwaukee Brewers, traded to The Good Land for the returns of Bernie Carbo and... "Boomer" George Scott, who had blocked his path to the Red Sox years prior and was now making a return engagement to Fenway Park.

Joining Milwaukee, he was surrounded by a lot of raw offensive talent that was about to break out. Future Hall of Famer Robin Yount was just getting started and would be joined by Paul Molitor in 1978. Stormin' Gorman Thomas was about to earn regular playing time and crush a lot of long balls. Ben Oglivie, a former teammate in Boston, also would bring his big bat to town in 1978 as part of a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Additionally, Coop made an adjustment upon joining his new digs. He altered his batting stance to more closely resemble that of Rod Carew, perhaps the best hitter in the game at the time. In 160 games with the new stance in 1977, Cecil began a string of seven consecutive .300 seasons, batting .300/.326/.463 with 20 home runs, 78 RBI and 86 runs scored. Missing time in 1978, he still checked in at season's end with a .312/.359/.474 batting line. In 1979, he made his first All-Star Game appearance, leading the AL in doubles (44) while batting .308/.364/.508 with 24 home runs, 106 RBI and 83 runs scored.

Cooper's season for all-time was 1980. On April 12th, in the second game of the season, he and another Brewer icon, Don Money, became the fourth set of teammates in history to belt grand slams in one inning, victimizing Mike Torrez and Chuck Rainey of the Red Sox en route to an 18-1 romp at County Stadium. Cecil proceeded to bat better than .300 every month, on his way to a second All-Star appearance and a .352/.387/.539 line, finishing second to George Brett in the batting race. He could hang his hat instead on leading the league in RBI (122) while belting 33 doubles and 25 home runs with a career best 219 hits. Of course, that was the season when Brett flirted with batting .400, so he completely obscured Cooper's great year.

In the strike-shortened 1981, Cecil hit .320/.363/.495 with a league-leading 35 doubles, making a return to the postseason for the first time since his Red Sox days in a Division Series loss to the New York Yankees. He was the third hitter for "Harvey's Wallbangers" in 1982, following Molitor and Yount to the plate but preceding catcher Ted Simmons, Oglivie and Thomas for a fearsome top six in the lineup. Cooper hit .313/.342/.528 in 155 games, belting a career-high 32 home runs with 121 RBI, 104 runs scored and 205 hits. After a .150/.150/.250 performance in the ALCS against the California Angels, he batted .286/.300/.429 with a home run, a double and 6 RBI in the World Series, a seven-game fall to the St. Louis Cardinals. Cooper had some magic left in his bat for 1983, with a fourth trip (and second consecutive) to the All-Star Game on the heels of a .307/.341/.508 line, leading the AL with 126 RBI while belting 30 home runs among his 203 hits with a career best 106 runs scored. At season's end, he was honored with the Roberto Clemente Award.

For the first time since 1976 and the first time as a Brewer, Cecil failed to eclipse .300 in 1984, batting .275/.307/.386 with only 11 home runs in 148 games, coinciding with the team starting to fall out of contention. He muscled his way back to a final All-Star Game in 1985, cracking 39 doubles with 99 RBI and a .293/.322/.456 line. His final season as a regular was 1986 (.258/.310/.373 in 134 games) and he finished his career with 63 games in 1987 (.248/.293/.372). In 1989, Cooper came back briefly and played for the Winter Haven Super Sox of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. He hit .407 with 3 homers and 15 RBI in 16 games before retiring again.

Overall, Cecil batted .298/.337/.446 with 241 home runs, 415 doubles, 1,012 runs scored and 1,125 RBI. He was not great at drawing walks, but he did hit 30-plus home runs twice and drive in 100-plus runs four times. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting four times and was among the top five in batting average in several seasons. In 2002, he was an inductee of the Miller Park/Milwaukee Brewer Walk of Fame. The most similar player, according to similarity scores, was New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly.

During most of 1988-1996, Cooper worked as a player agent. From 1997-2001, he worked in various capacities in the Brewers organization, including Farm Director from 1997 to 1999. He was a Brew Crew coach in 2002 and managed the Triple A Indianapolis Indians in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, he became a Houston Astros coach under Phil Garner, whom he had worked with back in Milwaukee. Cecil became interim manager of the Astros on August 28, 2007 when Garner was fired and was given the manager's job on a full-time basis shortly afterwards. The Astros did surprisingly well in 2008, finishing 9 games above .500, and started 2009 on the same note. With the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers all hovering around .500, the Astros were suddenly in the middle of the division race in early August, but the thrill ended as quickly as it had begun: the Cardinals got hot, Houston cooled down and by mid-September, the dream was over. With Houston in a seven-game losing streak, Cooper was fired on September 21st and replaced by third base coach Dave Clark.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 5-time AL All-Star (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983 & 1985)
  • 2-time AL Gold Glove Winner (1980 & 1981)
  • 3-time AL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1980-1982)
  • AL Total Bases Leader (1980)
  • 2-time AL Doubles Leader (1979 & 1981)
  • 2-time AL RBI Leader (1980 & 1983)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 & 1983)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1982 & 1983)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 4 (1979, 1980, 1982 & 1983)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1982 & 1983)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 3 (1980, 1982 & 1983)

Preceded by
Phil Garner
Houston Astros Manager
Succeeded by
Dave Clark

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
2003 Indianapolis Indians International League 64-78 4th Milwaukee Brewers
2004 Indianapolis Indians International League 66-78 3rd Milwaukee Brewers
2007 Houston Astros National League 15-16 4th Houston Astros replaced Phil Garner (58-73) on August 28
2008 Houston Astros National League 86-75 3rd Houston Astros
2009 Houston Astros National League 70-79 -- Houston Astros replaced by Dave Clark on September 21

Records Held[edit]

  • Most at bats, extra inning game, 11, 5/8-5/9/84 (tied)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Eric Aron: "Cecil Cooper", in Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, ed.: '75:The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 11-14. ISBN 978-1-933599-97-7
  • Cecil Cooper (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, July 1985, pp. 83-85. [1]
  • Cecil Cooper (as told to John McMurray): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, March-April 2008, pp. 70-72. [2]

Related Sites[edit]