- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
And he has done it with consistency. Cooper has batted .317 or better in every month of the season and has had hitting streaks of 21, 16 and 15 games. He has had at least one hit in 82% of his games; on 19 occasions he has had three or more hits. He almost certainly will become the first Brewer to get 200 hits in a season. And all the while he has played first base with the skill that earned him a Gold Glove in 1979.
Cooper's weird batting stance is patterned after that of another hard-hitting first baseman, Rod Carew. "It's the same swing, same everything. Mine is just opened up more," Cooper says. "Before I found this one, I used to go through three or four different stances a game."
Cooper, wiry-strong at 6'2" and 190 pounds, has one edge over Carew—power; he had 21 homers at the end of last week. But until this season he never had a Carew-like average because he relied too much on his hands and wrists when he was hitting. Pitchers knew Cooper could be had by high, inside deliveries. Now he has moved an extra six inches away from the plate, enabling him to get his bat around on the pitches that were once his weakness.
Not that that explains his extraordinary season. As Cooper readily admits, when you're hot, you're lucky. "Everything has just fallen into place," he says. "There have been days when I was feeling awful. I got hits. Once I got brushed back and the ball hit my bat and rolled past the pitcher toward short. It was a perfect bunt."
Brewer Third Base Coach Frank Howard thinks Cooper is being too modest. "This is how it will be for Cecil for the next three or four years if he keeps his legs," Howard says, "You don't have to instruct him; he knows himself very well. One game he's at bat and already has two hits. He takes a fastball. Strike one. Takes another. Strike two. I'm wondering what he's doing; most guys would've jumped on those balls. The pitcher wastes one and then throws him the most wicked slider I've ever seen. Boom. Cecil drills it up the middle for a hit. I tell you, he's just a bitch to pitch to."
Cooper's talents were whetted near Brenham, Texas, 70 miles northwest of Houston. Although his father played in the Negro leagues and two brothers were sandlot stars, Cooper never paid much attention to the game. "It was something that was always around, but I never thought about it as a career," he says. "I never saw a major league game in person until I turned pro. I was just going to be a regular kid, go to college, get a job. Even when I was dratted I didn't think I would do it in baseball."
For a time, Cooper didn't. He shuttled around the Red Sox organization until finally sticking with the big club late in 1973. Boston used Cooper in a variety of roles—defensive replacement, pinch hitter, designated hitter—but he was never able to win a starting job. "In July of '761 asked Don Zimmer if I would be a starter the next year," Cooper says. "He never specifically said yes, but that was the impression I got."
He did start in 1977, but with the Brewers, who had traded for him. Although leaving Boston was "heartbreaking" for Cooper, his wife, Octavia, and their daughter, Kelly, he's grateful to the Brewers for giving him a chance to play.
The pleasure has also been the Brewers'. Since coming to Milwaukee, Cooper has been one of the mainstays of an explosive lineup. This year, four of the top five American Leaguers in total bases are Brewers, which means there's usually someone on board when Cooper comes up. And he usually comes through: his batting average with men on base this season is .376. "It's easy to get caught up in hitting here," Cooper says. "Because so many of us hit, there's no pressure to try and do it all yourself. When there's a man on, you don't say, 'I gotta do it,' but, 'I've got a chance to do it.' "
Which is how Cooper feels about chasing Brett. "So I hit .360 and don't win the batting title, well, at least the man who beat me hit around .400," he says. "That's some consolation."