WACO, Texas – The list of famous Wacoans is diverse and long – with names like Chip and Joanna Gaines, LaDanian Tomlinson, Pat Green, or the late Billy Joe Shaver.
Most people, even the most ardent baseball fans in the area, don’t know about Andrew “Lefty” Cooper – and based on the lack of tributes to him in his hometown, it is easy to see why.
A walk among the tombstones in Waco’s historic Greenwood Cemetery will bring you to an unsuspecting grave site with nothing distinguishing to tell you it’s the final resting place of Waco’s only Baseball Hall of Famer. Nothing about it shows how great Cooper’s career was.
“He’s considered one of the best 15 or 20 Negro League players of all time, which would make him one of the best baseball players of any race,” says Baylor Journalism Professor and Cooper Historian Robert Darden.
Cooper was born in Waco in 1896 and attended A.J. Moore High School, the city’s all-black high school, before fighting in the U.S. Army during World War I. During his time in the service, Cooper played in Army baseball teams – competing against major league players like Zack Wheat and Casey Stengel.
After the war, Cooper flourished as a pitcher for the Detroit Stars of the Negro Leagues, winning anywhere from 10-15 games a year in a season much shorter than that of the Major Leagues – due to the league’s propensity to barnstorm to make more money.
He was part of the teams that made baseball into more than just the great American game.
“He becomes a staple on the barnstorming tours of the Negro Leagues throughout the U.S., and later becomes some of the first ones to head overseas,” Darden said. “Lefty is on one of the teams that helped spark the rage and mania for baseball that continues in Japan to this very day.”
Cooper’s style on the mound was crafty, much more in the mold of Tom Glavine than that of Randy Johnson. According to the players he faced, he was just as effective as the fireballers.
“One of the things the Negro League players said was, ‘When you faced him, you’d better have extra bats,'” Darden said. “He would keep breaking that ball in around your fist and breaking your bat over and over again.”
After a stellar career in Detroit, he was traded to Kansas City as a player-manager, formulating one of the greatest teams in Negro League history with the Monarchs, joined by fellow Hall of Famers Buck O’Neil and “Bullet” Joe Rogan.
Yet the man who is buried roughly a mile away from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame has barely any recognition is hometown.
“We have one Baseball Hall of Famer in this town,” Darden said. “He’s in Cooperstown, probably the premier Hall of Fame of all sports, but he’s not in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.”
For years, Darden has advocated not only for Cooper’s enshrinement in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, but also for a statue outside Baylor Ballpark.
In a city where Magnolia has built an empire and heroes like Doris Miller still get remembered, one local pioneer still has not gotten his due.
“As far as his legacy in Waco as of 2021,” Darden said. “It’s a small stone in Greenwood Cemetery at the confluence of two major highways and hard as heck to get to.”
Cooper died in 1941 at the age of 45.