Andy Cooper, the early days?

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Andy Cooper’s WWI draft card

Following up on this recent post from about Andy Cooper and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, I’ve been trying to delve into Cooper’s family roots, youth and young adulthood in Waco and beyond before he signed on with Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants in 1920, the same year as the formation of the first Negro National League.

These posts coincide with the 75th anniversary of Cooper’s sudden death coming up this July, as well his continued omission from the TSHOF despite being inducted into Cooperstown in 2006.

For many years, it’s been believed that Cooper, one of the greatest pitchers in Negro Leagues history, was born in 1898 in Waco. He did spend much of his life in Waco and McClennan County, he went to J.A. Moore High School in Waco, he died there and is now buried there in historic Greenwood Cemetery. In addition, many contemporary documents and media reports state that he was a Waco native.

However, I have reason to believe that he might not have been born there — and perhaps not in Texas at all.

In addition, many of the biographical sketches of him don’t include much in the way of his early baseball career — namely, between the time he was a student at Moore HS and when he was inked by Foster in ’20 — so I’ve been trying to discover how he made that leap and what baseball activity could have bridged that chronological chasm.

Because I’m still trying to put the pieces of Cooper’s genealogical puzzle together, this entry will focus somewhat on his pre-American Giants hardball career, with maybe a little tease at the end about his familial background. …

When Andrew Lewis Cooper died in June 1941 — almost 75 years ago — the Chicago Defender printed a commentary by columnist Russ Cowans in which the writer recalled watching the future Hall of Famer pitch. The article contained this paragraph:

“Born in Waco, Tex., April 24, 1896, Cooper came to the Detroit Stars, April 4, 1920. He started his career with the Waco Navigators in 1916, remaining until 1918. The following year Cooper was at Paul Quinn College.”

I’ll discuss Cooper’s attendance at that HBCU in Dallas a little later in this post, but as to the claim that Cooper competed for the Waco Black Navigators in the mid- to late-19-oughts, I haven’t found any evidence — and least not yet — that he ever did so.

In fact, the earliest article I’ve found referencing Cooper donning the spikes for any professional squad in Texas is an April 12, 1919, report in the Dallas Express, a former African-American paper. The story discuss the upcoming season for the Dallas Black Giants, who were entered in that season’s Texas Colored League.

The article lays out the Giants’ tentative lineup for the upcoming campaign. Among the team’s pitching staff is Andrew Cooper. (The rotation also includes Dave Brown, probably the one who went on to fame and fortune in the highest levels of the Negro Leagues before becoming entangled in a murder investigation in New York, after which he went on the lam and became one of the great mysteries and enigmas in baseball lore.)

Express reporter J. Alba also listed the Navigators’ lineup and outlined the Waco squad’s prospects for 1919. Nowhere in discussion is any reference to Cooper ever playing for that squad. Stated Alba:

“The Navigators this season will present fans of Texas with a practically new club with exception of a few veterans whose faces are familiar to fandom and with the installation of new blood in their line-up it is rumored Waco should be quite a formidable outfit for the coming season.”

However, nowhere else, in archives of Texas papers between roughly 1915 and 1920, could I find any mention of Andy Cooper whatsoever. That includes some coverage of the Waco Black Navigators from that time period. That includes a handful of articles in the Houston Post and the Waco Morning News from 1915 and ’16.

None of that means for certain that Cooper didn’t don the flannels for teams like the Black Navs or other squads, of course, but it doesn’t do anything to clear up his pre-Negro National League days.

It doesn’t look like Cooper even considered himself a professional baseball player during this time period; he doesn’t even seem to have identified himself thusly in any official records from the era. His WWI draft card from June 1918 lists him as “unemployed,” with an address of 2603 South 9th Street in Waco, which appears to have been the future home of his mother, Emma, and next door to his brother Henry’s abode.

However, there’s evidence that, at least from the mid-1900s onward, Andy Cooper didn’t maintain an official residence in Waco; instead, he “lived” in Dallas. The 1930 and 1940 federal Censuses document an Andy Cooper living in that city with a wife, also Emma, and an age pegged in the late 1890s. In 1930, his occupation is “farmer,” while in 1940 it’s stated as a laborer on a WPA construction project (which an extremely intriguing notion).

In addition, several Dallas city directories from the 1910s and 1920s list an Andrew Cooper at various addresses in that city, including one with a wife named Emma. On top of that, the May 7, 1921, issue of the Dallas Express reported that a boy was born to a Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Cooper, whose address matches up with one listed in a Dallas city directory.

All of this could make sense, because Paul Quinn College is located just south of Dallas, and because Dallas would probably offer more employment opportunities, such as the Black Giants.

On the other hand, I’ve found no newspaper reports that list him on the Paul Quinn roster during this time period, including a clash in May 1920 between the school and, as it turns out, the Waco Black Navigators.

So I’m investigating Cooper’s connection to Paul Quinn, as well as his high school, Moore HS, a segregated African-American institution in Waco.

Head & shoulders posed portrait of newly inducted Hall of Famer, Andy Cooper.  Cooper is often ranked 2nd only to Bill Foster among the Negro Leagues left-handed pitchers.  Image is cropped from 1920 Detroit Stars 2442.89 PD

However, of course, that, to some extent, is admittedly speculation on my part. But from what I’ve found so far, that’s the best theory I could assemble at this point.

Now, on to Cooper’s genealogical background. And, naturally, I’ve again run into some confusion, starting with his birthdate. Various published biographies online place it as April 24, in either 1896 or 1898.

Further, his death certificate also pegs it as April 24, 1898. (Coincidentally, the document also lists him as a “ball player.”) And Cowans’ June 1941 article about Cooper’s death asserts that his birthdate was 1896, as do a selection of ship manifests.

But … his WWI draft card states it as April 24, 1897, as does a Social Security record. So what’s the real story?

And that, my friends, leads us into my next post about Andrew Lewis Cooper — one that explores his familial and geographical roots. For years, it’s been believed that he was born and grew up in Waco, but now I don’t think that’s the case. From records I’ve dug up, he spent his childhood in …

Ahh, we’ll have to keep that a mystery … for now. 🙂

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One thought on “Andy Cooper, the early days?

  1. Pingback: Andy Cooper Texas update | The Negro Leagues Up Close

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