Feb 6, 2016

Former New York Giants All Star Catcher: Walker Cooper (1945-1949)

William Walker Cooper was born on January 8th, 1915 in Atherton, Missouri. He attended high school at Independence, Missouri where he was signed by the home town St. Louis Cardinals.  

The big six foot three, 210 pound, Cooper was an outstanding catcher but was stuck in the talented Cardinals minor leagues for five years before getting a break out.

In 1939 he batted .336 in the Piedmont League & then hit .302 in 131 games at AA Columbus in 1940. That year he got his first chance in the big leagues. In 1941 he was back up to veteran catcher Gus Mancuso who was winding down his career after many successful years with the New York Giants. On August 30th he caught Lon Warnele's no hitter. He played on the same Cardinals team for his first few seasons with his brother Mort Cooper, a pitcher.

By 1942 he was the Cardinals main catcher & would be there for three seasons. He became one of the league's best catchers, making three straight All Sta appearances & ranking in the top ten percent of the MVP voting as well. In 1942 he threw out 59% of would be base stealers while posting over 43% the next two years.

Post Season: In Game #2 of the 1942 World Series, Cooper drove in the first two runs of the game, with a long double to deep right center field off the AL New York clubs; Tiny Bonham. In Game #4, he broke a 6-6 tie with a 7th inning single scoring Enos Slaughter, as the Cards went on to a 9-6 win.

In the final clinching Game #5 he drove in the tying run, with a sac fly off pitcher; Red Ruffing. Later in the top of the 9th he scored the games winning run, when Whitey Kurowski bashed a two run HR sealing the championship.

Over the next two seasons he was in the top ten in hitting as he batted .318 & .317 respectively. His defensive numbers along with his offensive numbers made him one of the game's best all around players.

The Cardinals went on to another pennant in 1943 but this time lost the match up with the A.L. New York team. In 1944 the Cardinals faced off against their cross town rivals, the St. Louis Browns in their only pennant winning season. Cooper hit .318 driving in two runs in the series, as the Cardinals won their second title in three years.

In 1945 he went off to serve in World War II & when he returned he was with a new club. In January 1946 his contract was purchased by the New York Giants, for $175,000. At the time it was the largest contact ever purchased without actually having any other players involved in the transactions.

Cooper would spend three and a half seasons with the Giants, never finishing above fourth place. He made the All Star team each year as a member of the Giants & in 1947 came in 18th in the MVP voting.

In 1947 he batted .305 with a career highs in HRs (35)(4th in the NL) RBIs (122) (5th most in the NL) hits (157) runs scored (79) triples (8) & games played (140). That year the Giants set a record at the time with 221 HRs.

Also That season Cooper tied a 1924 NL record set by NY Giant High Pockets Kelly; of hitting HRs in six straight games. His defense was outstanding as usual, throwing out 44% of would be base stealers, coming in second in put outs & first in games played & errors, with a .982%. By 1949 Leo Durocher had taken over as the Giants manager & the team was revamped with more of an emphasis on speed.

Cooper was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in June of 1949. Three weeks after his arrival he had a huge record setting day at the plate. He became the only catcher in MLB history to ever have a ten RBI day. On July 6th 1949 at Crosley Field, he went 6-7, with three HRs as the Reds beat the Cubs 23-4.

In 1950 he went to Boston & played three seasons with the Braves catching another no hitter there. He would also bat over .300 two of those seasons & continue to be one of the best catchers in the game. He moved with the club to Milwaukee in 1953 playing as a back up to Del Crandall.

He went to the Chicago Cubs (1954-1955) as a back up to Harry Chiti & then returned to St. Louis in 1956. Cooper was the first player to hit grand slams with five different teams, Dave Kingman & Dave Winfield have matched that mark.

By 1957, he was the oldest player in the league, at age 42 but was still catching games behind the plate (17) behind main catcher; Hal Smith.

That year Coopers daughter Sara, who was voted Miss Missouri of 1957, married his team mate Don Blasingame .

Cooper said "it's time to quit when you've got a daughter old enough to marry a teammate".
In his 18 year career, Cooper caught 1223 games (69th all time) throwing out 45.4% of base stealers (84th best all time). He posted a .977 fielding % making 138 errors (90th all time) in 5893 chances. He turned also 80 double plays (90th all time).

Cooper batted .285 with 1341 hits, 240 doubles, 40 triples, 173 HRs, 812 RBIs & a .332 on base % in 1473 games.

He played in eight All Star games, earned votes for the MVP award six times & caught two no hitters.

In the World Series he won two Championships, played in three Fall Classics & batted .300 with six RBIs over 16 games.

Cooper was up for election of the Hall of Fame but has never made it in, despite some very impressive credentials.

Retirement: After his playing days he managed in the minor leagues & then coached with the 1960 Kansas City Athletics before leaving the game.

Passing: Cooper passed away at age 76, in Scottsdale Arizona in 1991.

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