A baseball player who spent the entirety of his playing career in the shadows of the American and National leagues due to the color of his skin, Andy Cooper made a name for himself in the Negro Leagues due to his mound mastery.
Negro Leagues historian Dick Clark once said of Cooper: “In my estimation, the greatest black pitcher ever to pitch for Detroit – that’s for the Stars or the Tigers.”
Born in Waco, Tex. in 1897, the thickly built Cooper, all 6-foot-2 and roughly 220 pounds of him, spent the majority of his Negro Leagues career as a durable and consistent left-handed hurler with the Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs over a two-decade career that spanned the 1920s and ‘30s.
Included among Cooper’s many accolades and accomplishments during his playing days was a 43-inning stretch with the Stars in which he didn’t issue a base on balls, winning twice as many games as he lost with both the Stars and Monarchs, helping lead Kansas City to the Negro National League pennant in 1929 and pitching 17 innings in a 1937 playoff game against the Chicago American Giants.
According to a scouting report prepared by famed Negro Leagues player and manager Buck O’Neil, Cooper had a live arm with a total command of all of his pitches, which included a running fastball, tight curveball and biting screwball.
“Andy never possessed the fine assortment of curves held in the supple arms of other pitchers. However, he did have what so many pitchers lack – sterling control,” wrote Russ J. Cowans in 1941 in The Chicago Defender, one of the top African-American newspapers of the day. “Cooper could almost put the ball any place he wanted it to go.
“In addition, Cooper had a keen knowledge of batters. He knew the weakness of every batter in the league and would pitch to that weakness when he was on the mound.”
A top starting pitcher early in his career who became a valuable reliever in his final years on the diamond, Cooper was also an accomplished manager – leading the Monarchs to three pennants between 1937 and 1940.
“Cooper was a smart manager and a great, great teacher,” said Monarchs pitcher and fellow Hall of Famer Hilton Smith.
Cooper passed away on June 3, 1941. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.