Monday, July 14, 2014

Memorabilia Monday: Cecil Cooper Signs

As a ten-year-old, Cecil Cooper made me mad. 

It was a sunny Saturday in May in 1982.  It was the first game that I can remember attending, and my mom was patient enough that day in May to say that I could stay after the game to try to get autographs. Whether it was instinct or asking a security guard or asking any one of the dozens of other kids hanging out after the game, we figured out where the players parked next to County Stadium.  I had my ballpoint pen in one hand, my 1982 Brewers police card set in my other hand, and I was ready.

We autograph chasers had to cover two exits from County Stadium. An informal communication system was set up.  Kids were telling their friends and whoever else was in earshot who was signing, whether they were staying long, and whether they were being nice. I'm pretty sure that the players that day had the patience that Job longed for in the Bible, because I know I came home with a bunch of autographs.

But I came home mad too. I've said before that I think I may have related to Paul Molitor because he was a midwestern kid.  Robin Yount grew up before our eyes in Milwaukee. 

Cecil Cooper was a fully formed player by the time he got to Milwaukee.  He was the cool one. He was the guy whose batting stance everyone emulated from the left side -- the bat so loose in his hands that it looked like you could knock it out, weight poised over his back leg with his front leg in an open stance.  He would always take two or three practice loops with his bat in the box, point the bat at the pitcher, then slowly loop his bat back into place.  

You can see the very end of it here in one of my favorite hits of his entire career:

I saw Coop that May day in 1982. He was wearing a flat cap -- Samuel L. Jackson would call it a Kangol hat these days -- with the brim pointed forward.  He had his sunglasses on.  He saw those kids -- myself included -- who said, "Mr. Cooper, could you please sign an autograph?" or "Hey Coop, just one? Please?" or even "Cecil, come on man!"

He did not respond to any of our requests.  He just kept walking, head held high, to his car.  And that disappointed me.

Now, I won't say that Cecil Cooper lost a fan that day, because I still liked him a lot -- he was still one of "us" even if he was an African-American from Brenham, Texas, and all of "us" were white kids of pretty much all Northern or Eastern European descent.  He will always be the first baseman of the Brewers to me.  But he did make me mad, because he just could have said, "I'm sorry, I don't have time today."  

But he didn't.

In his last year in Milwaukee in 1987, Cooper was not even a shadow of the player he had been.  He only played in 63 games that season, and none after July 12 -- the Sunday before the All-Star Break. Cooper had been supplanted at first base by Greg Brock, so he was the designated hitter in that game.  The next time that the Brewers played was July 16, and in that game, the Brewers had a new designated hitter -- Paul Molitor.  July 16 was the first game of Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak.

During his last few months in Milwaukee, Cooper made a public appearance at a local department store or mall and signed autographs there. As I learned in May of 1982 and learned again several times after that over the next 6 seasons, Cooper was a tough person to get after games in Milwaukee. The lines for autographs were long that day in 1987, but I finally got a few cards signed by Cecil Cooper:

Cooper hung around a bit too long, frankly -- that .308 lifetime batting average as of 1984 fell to a .298 career average and killed whatever long-shot Hall of Fame argument he may have had.  

But, these cards signed in 1987 made the 16-year-old me a lot less upset about a day 5 years earlier.  Thanks, Mr. Cooper.

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