- P, OF
- February 24, 1892
- 5' 11"
- 175 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-29-1912 with PIT
Wilbur Cooper was scouted for the Pirates by future President Warren G. Harding, for which historians may credit Harding with his biggest contribution to the country. Lefty Cooper was an excellent fielder and a fine hitter, who was known for his ability to pick runners off third base. His 202 wins for the Pirates is still the most in franchise history, and he teamed with Babe Adams to form one of the longest-running lefty/righty pitching tandems in history. Cooper won twenty games four times, and from 1917 to 1924 his 161 wins were the most in baseball. In the 1924 off-season, Cooper was traded to the Chicago Cubs in one of Pittsburgh's most unpopular trades. He missed out on the Bucs' 1925 pennant, and seemed to lose a lot of spirit after the deal, going 14-19 in his remaining two seasons in the big leagues. Known as a quick worker on the mound, Cooper once defeated Pete Alexander 1-0 at Shibe Park, in 51 minutes.
Cooper claimed his best pitch was his curveball, but he also credited some of his success to a trick pitch. "I used to chew gum and tobacco at the same time. The combination helped darken the ball."
Vic Aldridge, who was part of the deal that sent Cooper to the Cubs. Aldridge was 15-7, 10-13 and 15-10 for the Pirates for 1925, 1926 and 1927, helping them to two NL flags.
Cooper won 24 games, had a 2.39 ERA, and completed 28 of his 37 starts. He wasn't the best pitcher in the league that season, Pete Alexander was, but Cooper had a fine season.
Cooper is credited with picking seven runners off third base in 1924, which is believed to be a record.
October 27, 1924: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates with Charlie Grimm and Rabbit Maranville to the Chicago Cubs for Vic Aldridge, George Grantham, and Al Niehaus; June 7, 1926: Selected off waivers by the Detroit Tigers from the Chicago Cubs. On October 27, 1924, Pirates' owner Barney Dreyfuss angered Pittsburgh baseball fans when he traded Cooper to the Cubs. Chicago received Cooper, Rabbit Maranville and Charlie Grimm. In return, Pittsburgh acquired pitcher Vic Aldridge, infielder George Grantham, and first baseman Al Niehaus. Grimm and Grantham proved to be the key players in the swap. Grimm played 12 seasons for the Cubs and managed the team for 13 years, Grantham solidified the Pirates' middle infield and starred on two pennant winners. Aldridge was a helpful starting pitcher for the Bucs for a few seasons, but Neihaus never panned out despite great expectations. Within a few years he was dead. Cooper and Maranville never did much for the Cubs.
Control. Cooper walked 2.2 batters per nine innings over his 15-year career. His fielding ability, pickoff move, and hitting were also very good strengths.
Harding and Cooper
Cooper played his first professional ball with Marion (Ohio), in 1911. The publisher of the local newspaper was Warren G. Harding, who also owned the baseball team. The story goes that Harding recognized Cooper's ability and told Pirates' owner Barney Dreyfuss about the left-hander. After the season, Dreyfuss bought Cooper from Columbus, for whom he finished the '11 campaign. The southpaw hurled for the Pirates for 13 seasons, while Harding worked his way up the Ohio political machine and was elected President of the United States in 1920.
Walter Schmidt became Wilbur Cooper's "caddie" in a sense. Schmidt was with the Pirates from 1916-1924, and caught most of Cooper's starts in those nine seasons. Even when Pittsburgh had regular catchers Willy Fischer and Johnny Gooch, Schmidt was Cooper's choice behind the plate. In 1922, Cooper started 37 games and Schmidt caught 40 games. Schmidt was to Cooper as Eddie Perez was to Greg Maddux in the 1990s. Cooper and Schmidt were so in synch that in later years they often went the entire game without calling any pitches. Partly due to Schmidt, Cooper was a very fast worker, once defeating Pete Alexander in 51 or 59 minutes, depending on the source. Cooper recalled that special relationship, "I remember many a time, I'd be half through with my windup by the time I got a signal from Schmidt." After the pitcher was dealt to the Cubs, the Cooper/Schmidt duo was broken, with Schmidt playing just one more season with the Browns before retiring.
Batting 8th: Wilbur Cooper
Wilbur Cooper was a fine athlete and a very good hitter. In 1922, he hit four home runs and batted .269 with a .444 slugging percentage. He was a career .239 hitter with 31 doubles, 17 triples and six homers. In 1919, he stole five bases, and from 1922-1925 he averaged 13 RBI in about 100 AB's per year. In later years, teammate Pie Traynor recalled that Cooper would often bat in the #8 slot in the batting order.
In 1936, at the age of 44, Cooper was coaxed out of retirement to attempt to set a new world record of sorts. The idea was for the lefty-hander to throw a silver dollar clear across the Monongahela River in downtown Pittsburgh. Previously, Walter Johnson had hurled a coin 300-feet across the Rappahannock River in Virginia, something Gen. George Washington is also credited with accomplishing. But Cooper could not reach the other bank of the Monongahela, which was some 900 feet away. When the silver dollar disappeared into the water, Cooper said, "I never was much good at throwing money away anyway."
In 1919, Giants' manager John McGraw offered the Pirates $75,000 for Wilbur Cooper. Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss rejected the deal, which was considered by many to be the largest sum ever offered for a major league pitcher. The offer was interesting in that the Pittsburgh lefty had not had particularly great success against McGraw's team. The Pirates were 12-14-1 in his starts against the Giants from 1912-1919. After the offer, from 1920-1924, Pittsburgh was 14-14 in Cooper's 28 starts against the Giants.