Sunday, January 25, 2015

Johnny Cooney's unlikely homer history

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

One of my favorite cards from the 1955 Johnston Cookies Braves regional issue was that of coach Johnny Cooney. He just looked like such a pleasant fellow. Heck, the write-up on back said he was "Known for courtesy and understanding . . . a real credit to the game." With that big smile he kind of reminded me of my Uncle John.

While poring over the 1943 microfilm of The Sporting News, I learned that Cooney had an unusual major league home run history. 

Cooney made his professional debut in 1921 with the Boston Braves as a 20-year-old pitcher. He spent 20 seasons in the bigs, He was with the Braves into 1930, then spent the 1930-35 seasons in the high minors. He returned to the National League with the Dodgers from 1935-37, returned to Boston 1938-42, then had a second stay with Brooklyn 1943-44 before ending his major league days with the Yankees in mid-1944, at the age of 43.

He ended his playing days with Kansas City in the American Association in 1945.

He returned to the Boston Braves as a coach in 1946, moving with the team to Milwaukee in 1953. He left the Braves in 1955 and after a year off he coached for the Chicago White Sox 1957-64.

Now for Johnny Cooney's home run story . . . 

From the time of his debut in 1921, almost through the end of 1939, in a total of about 2,300 at-bats in the major leagues, Cooney never hit a home run,

His first big league circuit clout came near the end of his 15th season.

On Sept. 24, 1939, playing in the Polo Grounds, Cooney connected for a home run off Giants pitcher Harry Gumbert. The following day, with Bill Lohrman on the mound, Cooney hit another home run.

Then he never hit another.

He played five more seasons in the majors, about 1,050 at-bats, without another home run.

In his nine seasons in the minors, Cooney had a total of 12 home runs in nearly 2,600 at-bats.

You can read a full account of Johnny Cooney's career on the SABR website, penned by Ray Birch: .

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