Calvin Asa Cooper is a name that I’m sure you’ve never heard before. But one inning on September 14th, 1948 gave him a story similar to Moonlight Graham (as in the classic film ‘Field of Dreams’.) There isn’t much known about Cooper’s early life but he must have loved the game of baseball. He would have put baseball on hold though, as he served in the US Navy during World War II. He served shortly after high school, and so he also put college on hold until he returned.
Once he returned, he would attend Newberry College. The mystery about who Cal was makes his story even more interesting. We do not know if he played high school baseball or college baseball. We don’t even know how he got the attention of the Washington Senators.
After he left Newberry, we do know that he would play his way through the minors and get news that players have dreamed of being told since the MLB has existed—on September 14th, 1948, the 6’2 right handed pitcher got the call up to the major league Washington Senators. The Senators came into the day struggling at 49-89 with 12 straight losses. The team was going into a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. Cal wouldn’t play in the first game as the Senators played the Tigers tough but lost their 13th straight. The pace-of-play today is a little bit different as this 11 inning match-up lasted approximately 2 hours and 1 minute.
Then, the second game started. With a little more than 5,000 in attendance, the fans would see a just-turned 26 year old play for the first and only time. During the 6th inning, the Senators found themselves down 5-0 and very well looking at a 14th straight loss. After already using two pitchers, they turned to a third looking for some help. The help walking onto the field was #16, Cal Cooper. This is where I would love to tell you about a Hollywood ending with Cal being what was needed, and leading a comeback win. This isn’t Hollywood though, as Cal surrendered five runs on five hits (including a home run) in his one inning of work. He walked off the field with a 10-0 deficit and the Senators ended up dropping the game 12-1. They lost for the 14th time in a row—but this middle of September game meant much more than one would have imagined.
Cal Cooper walked off the field and never played again. Not only did he not play in the majors ever again but there’s no record of him ever playing again in the minors. Cal would end his career in the MLB with a 45.00 ERA.
It’s said that after his one day of being #16 for the Washington Senators, he returned to his home state, becoming a personnel director at Clinton Mills in Clinton, South Carolina. He lived out the remainder of his days there passing away at 71 on July 4th, 1994.
Cal didn’t have his best outing on that September 14th afternoon, but what he did get maybe was his Hollywood happy ending. He suited up and pitched one inning in America’s game. Briggs Stadium was the site of history that day. A game can be meaningful even if it seems so insignificant at the time.
What would you ask Cal if you had the chance?