Introducing… Wilbur Cooper

One of the top pitchers of the early days of the Lively Ball Era, Cooper was a fine southpaw who was a multi-talented man on the roster.  A four-time 20-win pitcher, Cooper was also a stud with a bat in his hands.  In 1922, Wilbur clubbed four homeruns and in 1924 he hit a robust .346.  But it was with the old soup bone that Cooper made his mark.  He retired with 216 wins–good for 82nd on the all-time list.

Wilbur had a fine initial showing with the Pirates in 1912.  The southpaw made four starts, tossed a pair of shutouts and posted a 1.66 ERA.  Pirates skipper Fred Clarke had to be pleased with the youngster’s work and with Babe Adams, Claude Hendrix, Howie Camnitz and Marty O’Toole in town, Clarke surely had high hopes for a strong 1913 campaign.  Coop wasn’t as sharp in 1913 but had a fine 1914 season at the age of 22.  The lefty led Pirate hurlers in wins while fashioning a 2.12 ERA on 267 innings pitched.

After a disastrous 1915, Cooper got back on track in 1916.  In arguably his finest season, Wilbur posted a 1.87 ERA and kept batters from meeting his offerings with a tidy 0.768 hits per inning mark.  By 1917, the once proud Pirates had become the National League’s laughing-stock.  No longer the best team in the NL, the Pirates clung to the past with a 43-year-old Honus Wagner and little else on the roster.  Cooper worked the best he could under dire circumstances.  He remarkably posted a winning percentage of .607 in ’17 on a team with a season winning percentage of just .331.

Wilbur won 19 games in 1918 and finished second in the NL in the strikeout department.  Teams during this era used their staff aces as stoppers and Cooper tied for the league lead in saves.  In fine shape again in 1919, Cooper came one win shy of 20 for the second straight year.  He nevertheless led the National League in complete games and owned some decent lumber-eluding stuff, indicated by his coughing up just 229 hits in 287 innings of work.

Cooper finally got over the hump in 1920 and posted his first 20-win season.  The southpaw notched 24 victories for the Bucs and had the first of two-straight 300+ inning campaigns.  His 327 innings pitched were good for second in the NL.  The following year, Wilbur’s identical 327 innings of work was enough to top the senior circuit as the lefty also paced the league with 22 victories.  He reached his career high with 134 strikeouts–second in the National League.

One of the top workhorses of his time, Cooper led the NL with 27 complete games in 1922.  For the third straight year he eclipsed the 20 win marker by posting 23 Ws for the Buccos.  Forever the pack mule, Cooper carried his share of the load and then some in 1923, a year in which he led the National League in games started.  The Pirates were starting to turn the corner in 1924 under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame skipper Bill McKechnie.  That season Wilbur enjoyed his fourth 20-win campaign and tied for the NL lead in shutouts.  He teamed with Ray Kremer and Emil Yde to give the Pirates three hurlers with four shutouts apiece.

The Pirates needed offensive help for 1925 and despite Cooper’s 20-win season in ’24, he was used as trade bait to bring in the bat of George Grantham.  It was a wise move on the Pirates part who had already gotten nine 250+ innings pitched seasons out of his soup bone.  He pitched his tenth consecutive 200 inning season in 1925 with the Cubs, but it was essentially his last good year.  He finished the 1926 season with the Detroit Tigers and then spent the next four years in the PCL and Texas League.


W 216/L 178/PCT .548/G 517/CG 279/IP 3,482/H 3,415/BB 853/SO 1,252/SHO 36/ERA 2.89

1 comment
  1. brettkiser said:

    A Deadball Era pitcher who nearly averaged a hit allowed per inning is hardly anyone to champion for the HOF, but Coop did notch 216 wins. He was a top workhorse and the change from the Deadball to the Livley Ball Era didn’t seem to have much effect on him. His HOF chances are slight.

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