The Mort Cooper tale doesn’t go the way you want. The story never takes that turn toward recovery.
Still, you pull for a happy ending. You hope he can quit the booze. You cheer for one of his business deals to finally go right. You pray he saves that last dollar and doesn’t spend it on something else dumb. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go that way. Mort Cooper keeps heading in the wrong direction.
Except, that is, on the field for three seasons in St. Louis. Cooper, a talented right-hander with a balky elbow and a blazing fastball, led the Cardinal pitching staff during the World War II era. He started two games in the 1944 Streetcar Series. After losing 2-1 in the opener, he shut out the Browns 2-0 in Game 5. Cooper, who struck out 12 and scattered seven hits, ended the game in dramatic fashion by striking out the side.
The teams were knotted up 0-0 going into the sixth inning. Ray Sanders, the Cardinals’ first baseman, ended the scoreless game with a solo home run. Outfielder Danny Litwhiler added another solo home run for the Cardinals in the eighth. The victory gave the National League pennant winners a 3-2 Series lead.
Game 5, and the 1944 season, ended Cooper’s successful run, following arm miseries early in his career. The 6-foot-2-inch right-hander from little Atherton, Mo., near Independence, went 22-7 with a 2.46 ERA (ERA+ 145) in 1944 after going 21-8 with a 2.30 ERA (ERA+ 147) in 1943 and 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA (ERA+ 192) in 1942. That ’42 season, which also included 10 shutouts, merited an MVP selection for Cooper. He finished fifth in the ’43 MVP voting and ninth in ’44, in this time before the Cy Young Award.
All that success led to a bitter contract dispute going into 1945. You may be familiar with the famous Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax holdout of 1966. The two top Dodger pitchers demanded more money; late in spring training, they settled on the princely sums of $125,000 (for Koufax) and $115,000 (for Drysdale).
Mort Cooper teamed up with his brother, Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper, to hold out. The two asked for $15,000 a year apiece. This attempt met with less success than Big Don and Sandy’s effort 22 years later. The Cooper brothers gave in before opening day. Soon after, Walker went into the Army. The Cardinals traded Mort to the Boston Braves in May of 1946.
Elbow problems, always a concern, cropped up again for Mort. He struggled through a few more seasons and retired in 1949, 128-75 lifetime. Sixty-five of those 128 wins in Cooper’s 11-year career came between 1942 and ‘44.
His money went toward alimony and busted business deals. He ran a bar for a while and, later, worked as a night watchman in Houston. Mort Cooper died in a Little Rock hospital on Nov. 18, 1958, due to cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes and other serious health matters. He was only 45 years old.
St. Louis Cardinals 2
St. Louis Browns 0
Time of Game: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Site: Sportsman’s Park
Winning Pitcher: Mort Cooper
Losing Pitcher: Denny Galehouse