This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Rusty Groppel.
Our list of the Greatest St. Louis Cardinals rolls on.
Let’s talk about Mr. Cooper.
#14 – Mort Cooper, SP (1938-45, 2x All-Star, ERA Title, MVP)
Many of our younger generation of readers likely know little about Mort Cooper, or have possibly never heard of him. For our older generation of readers, you maybe didn’t see him pitch, but know quite a bit about him, in the same way that fans born in the late-80’s & 90’s are well aware of the greats from the 80’s teams.
Whether you do or don’t is irrelevant. This guy was good.
Mort Cooper was born in Atherton, MO, a small town just outside of Kansas City. He was the older brother, and eventual teammate/battery-mate, of Walker Cooper, a catcher and very good player in his own right. Mort was signed by the Cardinals in 1933, rising slowly through the minor leagues before making his debut in 1938.
Mort took a couple years to really hit his stride, kind of. Over his first three full seasons he had a solid, but not extraordinary, 36-27 record. But let’s move beyond this. In those same seasons, Cooper averaged 209 innings pitched with a 3.58 ERA while totaling 35 complete games and 5 shutouts.
He was just getting warmed up.
The Peak Years
From 1942-44, Mort Cooper was not just a great Cardinals pitcher, but one of the best in the NL. In both ’42 and ’43 he led the league in wins with 22 and 21, respectively. He followed those up with another 22-win effort in ’44. Over this three year period he averaged 268 innings pitched with a 2.17 ERA. He tossed 68 complete games and 23 shutouts during that span. He allowed just 20 homeruns, total, in that stretch for an outstanding 0.2 HR/9.
Mort’s three years of dominance coincided with 3 straight World Series appearances for the Cardinals. They would win it in both 1942 and 1944. Combined, Cooper had a 2-3 record with a 3.00 ERA in World Series play. He would shine in 1944, posting a 1.13 ERA in two appearances, including a 12-strikeout, complete game shutout in Game 5 against the cross-town St. Louis Browns.
Cooper won the NL MVP, as a pitcher no less, in 1942. That season saw him post career bests (and also NL leading) figures in ERA (1.78), IP (278.2), shutouts (10), WHIP (0.987), H/9 (6.7), and K/BB (2.24). He would finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting each of the next two years, as well. Add to those a 25th place finish in 1941, and Cooper received MVP votes for 4 straight seasons.
In 1945, both Mort and his brother Walker held out for more pay, seeking to get $15,000 each. Despite starting out 1945 with a 1.52 ERA in his first 4 games, these demands would eventually lead to Mort’s exit from the Cardinals. He was traded to the Boston Braves on May 23rd, 1945. He would be plagued by arms issues over the next 5 years, finishing his career with a single relief appearance for the Cubs in 1949.
Unfortunately, Mort passed away at the young age of 45 in 1958 after develop cirrhosis and a staph infection.
His Place in Cardinals History
Let’s start with that 1942, NL MVP season. It was the first of three consecutive MVP awards to be brought back to St. Louis, with Stan Musial and Marty Marion winning in ’43 and ’44. Cooper is one of 16 Cardinals to win the award, but he and Bob Gibson are the only pitchers to do so for the franchise. While Cooper’s ’42 may not be on the same level as Gibson’s extraordinary 1968 season, it certainly ranks with the likes of John Tudor‘s ’85 and easily fits into the Top 5 of individual seasons by a Cardinals pitcher.
Cooper finds himself in the top 10 of many of the franchise’s pitching categories. He ranks highly in WAR (8th), Wins (10th), ERA (8th), H/9 (7th), Shutouts (3rd), Adjusted Pitching Runs (6th), ERA+ (6th), and Winning % (4th).
Had he stayed healthy after leaving the Cardinals, we could be talking about a Hall of Fame career. If he hadn’t passed at such a young age, he likely would have been visible as the years went on, just as other former Cardinals are today.
Instead he is somewhat forgotten as the years go by, but he’s one of the Greatest St. Louis Cardinals of all-time.
Thanks for reading!