Braden Laverne Looper was born October 28, 1974 in Weatherford, Oklahoma. He is one of the few Mets to be born in Oklahoma and one of very few players to have a middle name of Laverne. Looper was no dummy a smart student graduating in the National Honor Society. He was a scholar, as well as a four letter man in High school.
The six foot four right handed pitcher attended Wichita State, earning All American honors going to the College World Series and later getting elected to the Wichita Hall of Fame. In 1996 he was part of the bronze winning US Olympic baseball team in Atlanta.
The tall six foot five right hander was originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996 as a first round selection the third pick overall. Two years later he was traded to the Florida Marlins with Armando Almanza and Pablo Ozuna for Edgar Renteria. Looper debuted during the 200 season as a mid reliever in going 5-1, with 18 hold as the set up man to Antonio Alfonseca.
He remained in that role before gradually earning the role of the Marlins closer toward the end of the 2002 season.
He originally took the role over from Vladimir Nunez, going 2-5 with 13 saves, posting a 3.14 ERA. In 2003 he had 28 saves (8th in the NL) with a 6-4 record finishing off 64 games, while posting a 3.68 ERA for the Marlins World Championship team. Toward the end of the season he lost his job to Ugeth Urbina who enjoyed a short lived success as a closer.
Post Season: Looper saw action in two games of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. He was the winning pitcher in Game #3 at Joe Robby Stadium in Florida. In Game #1 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs he earned the save, again seeing action in two series games.
He appeared in four games of the 2003 World Series getting roughed up for four runs in 3.2 innings of work. After winning the World Series Championship in Florida he signed with the New York Mets for the 2004 season.
Looper debuted on Opening Day 2004 in the Mets 7-2 win in Atlanta against the Braves. In the month of April he had four saves and a perfect 0.00 ERA showing some promise. Overall Looper had as strong first half, gathering up 18 saves a 1.88 ERA while posting a 2-2 record by the All Star break. In the second half he took two losses & blew two saves through late August.
In September he saved five games, but took two losses & blew a save allowing four runs to the Phillies in one inning of work on September 11th. That would be his best career season in 2004 gathering up 29 saves (10th in the league) going 2-5 with a 2.70 ERA. He did blow five saves along the way & allowed five HRs in 83 appearances.
The following year although he saved 28 games but he blew a lot of save opportunities which is how he is remembered. It started on Opening day in Cincinnati when he entered the 9th with a 6-4 lead. He gave up a single then two consecutive HRs to Adam Dunn & Joe Randa, taking the 7-6 loss.
There was a collapse in a June Subway series match up where the Mets could have swept that AL team but Looper gave up two 9th inning runs. In August there was a nightmare game against the Washington Nationals where the Mets blew an eight run lead.
Looper entered the 9th with a 8-6 lead but surrendered the tying runs as the Mets lost it in extra innings. The fans began to boo the hell out of him and he was doomed in New York. Any site of him would lead a chorus of boos and he became known as Braden Blooper.
To his credit that September it was learned he was pitching with a blown AC joint and required surgery. Looper an easy going nice guy took it all in stride and didn’t blame the injury for his pitching woes. The Mets didn’t sign him in 2006 and he went to the St. Louis Cardinals who went on to beat the Mets in the NLCS.
Post Season: Looper laughed off the greeting he got at Shea Stadium when he entered Game #1 in the 8th inning; he gave up two hits but no runs. In Game #6 (a game I attended) us fans really let him have it in the 8th inning. After getting the first two outs, Michael Tucker & Jose Reyes both singled then stole bases.
Next the winning runs were driven in by catcher Paul Loduca, sending the series to a game seven. In three games he posted a 5.79 ERA allowing three runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings of work. In the World Series he appeared in three games against the Detroit Tigers.
The Cardinals made him a starter in 2007 and he won 12 games, going 12-12 with a 4.94 ERA striking out 108 batters in 199 innings. In 2008 he was 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA.
In 2009 he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers going 14-7 leading the NL in starts (34) but also gave up the most HRs (39) & earned runs (113). He did not pitch in 2010 & although he signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2011 he did not make the team.
Looper retired finishing off his 12 year career with a 72-65 record & 103 saves. In 670 games he pitched 1176 innings posting a 4.15 ERA allowing 132 HRs.