Known throughout the nation for his pitching prowess, Andy Cooper made a name for himself at a time when segregation placed limits on black baseball.
Now known as the nation’s pastime, baseball has captivated Americans since the early nineteenth century. But prior to the 1940s, blacks could not play in either of the major leagues or their respective farm systems. African Americans instead formed their own teams and eventually created their own leagues. The Negro National League (NNL), formed in 1920, lasted until 1931 and was soon followed by the Negro American League in 1937. Andrew “Andy” Lewis Cooper had a successful career in both of these leagues, playing for both Detroit and Kansas City.
Born in Waco in 1898, Cooper grew up in the city and attended A. J. Moore High School and Paul Quinn College. The date of his birth is often debated, since his draft certificate states that he was born in 1897, while his birth certificate reads 1898.
Cooper first played for the Dallas Black Giants in 1919 before making the jump to Detroit. He made his debut with the Detroit Stars in 1920 and played for them until 1927, after which he was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs. Known as one of the best pitchers in baseball, Cooper was traded for five players. He played one season with the Monarchs before rejoining the Stars in 1930. In 1931, he returned to the Monarchs and continued to play there until 1939.
Cooper was known as one of the best pitchers in baseball and was recognized for his absolute control over every one of his pitches, including a fastball, curveball, and screwball. His knowledge of batters’ weaknesses gave him one of the best records in the business. Cooper eventually transitioned from a starter to a successful relief pitcher. By the end of his playing career he posted a 116-57 record and held the NNL record for saves with 29. Cooper became player manager of the Monarchs in 1937, when they joined the Negro American League, and by 1940 he had led Kansas City to three championships. Cooper’s last appearance as a player in 1939 was with the Monarchs.
Andy Cooper did not always play in a Negro league. During the early twentieth century, many African American ballplayers turned to barnstorming—the practice of traveling around the world to play exhibition matches—instead of professional baseball. In 1927, financial difficulties led to pay cuts in Negro baseball and a contract-jumping ban was put in place to prevent players from switching leagues or leaving their team. Cooper decided to test the ban by joining the Philadelphia Royal Giants, a traveling team. His first barnstorming trip took him as far as Japan and Honolulu. When he returned to the NNL, he was assessed a thirty-day suspension and a $200 fine for contract-jumping. Cooper’s second barnstorming trip occurred during the off-season while the Monarchs played in an independent league following the dissolution of the NNL. That trip took him to Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and China.
Cooper continued to coach Kansas City until 1941, when he suffered a stroke during the preseason. He went home to Waco to recover but died from a heart attack on June 3rd of that year. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in East Waco.
Cooper died only a few years before the beginning of the integration of baseball with the signing of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. Although he never saw integration, Cooper left a lasting legacy on the sport, eventually recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2006, a special committee selected Andrew Cooper and several other African American players for induction into the Hall of Fame, ensuring that his legacy as a phenomenal player, smart manager, and inspiring mentor continues on.