Due to being shut down the last few days by a bad cold, I failed yesterday to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League left-handed pitcher Andy Cooper. Born April 24, 1898 in Waco, Texas; Cooper is considered one of the best southpaw pitchers in Negro League baseball history; Willie Foster the only one deemed better. At 6’2″, 220 pounds, he had the physical stature of a power pitcher. But Andy Cooper did not overpower hitters. Nicknamed “Lefty”, he used a variety of pitches at different speeds to keep hitters off-balance to get them out. He pitched for the Detroit Stars (1920 – 1927) and the Kansas City Monarchs (1928 – 1937). Also, with Cooper as manager, the Monarchs won the Negro American League pennant in 1939 and 1940.
The following is an exert from my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era” in which I profile Andy Cooper;
“In his prime, Hall of Famer Satchel Paige’s fastball was described by batters as
being the size of a half-dollar or a pea. By the nickname given other
pitchers, the batters knew what to expect when facing them.
“Smokey” Joe Williams, “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Wilber “Bullet”
Rogan, and “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor were just a few whose name
preceded their pitches. Using radar technology to gauge the speed
of pitches was not introduced into baseball until the 1970s.
However, if it had been used to clock the pitches of the great Negro
League baseball hurlers, it would have registered at ninety‐plus
miles per hour many times.
But Andrew Lewis Cooper was a different kind of pitcher. He
did not overpower batters. “Lefty” as he was nicknamed, used a
variety of pitches at different speeds to get batters out.
In order to hit the ball solidly, a batter must have balanced
coordination and timing between his legs, waist, shoulders, and
hands. If a pitcher can disrupt that coordination and timing, getting
the hitter swinging too early or too late; it usually leads to a fly out,
ground out or strike out. Andy Cooper was a master of keeping
hitters off-balance. Not having the blazing fastball like other great
Negro League pitchers, he had the ability to get batters out by
disrupting their coordination and timing. “Lefty” had a successful
career by frustrating and fooling them with his arsenal of pitches.”
To read more about Andy Cooper and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
Walter “Coach” Owens played for the Detroit Stars in 1953 -1955 during Negro League baseball’s declining years. Although he never wore a Major League uniform, he used the lessons he learned through his experiences to have a positive influence on young players.
Born on August 19, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio; Owens grew up in Detroit where baseball was segregated at the amateur and semi-professional levels. He played on three high school city baseball champions and received a basketball/track scholarship to Western Michigan University.
During the summer months while in college, he played for the Detroit Stars of the Negro American League (NAL). A pitcher and an outfielder, Owens played under an alias in order to keep his college amateur eligibility. Playing against the House of David one of those summers, he singled and struck out facing “Satchel” Paige. Although Owens was a good ballplayer, but former Negro League star and Detroit resident Turkey Stearnes, advised him to stay in school.
After graduating from college, Owens received an offer to play for the Indianapolis Clowns. He turned it down, began teaching school, and eventually became the baseball coach at Detroit’s Northwestern High School. Owens was a father figure for many of his players. Two of them, Willie Horton and Alex Johnson, went on to have successful Major League careers in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1976, Owens was named head baseball coach at Northern Illinois University (Mid-American Conference) and became one of a very few African Americans to run the baseball program at a majority white NCAA university at that time. NIU won 133 games in Owens’ seven years (1976 – 1982) as coach.