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‘Just one more day’: Gary Cooper petitions to get on MLB roster to qualify for pension

Braves

In “Pride of the Yankees,” actor Gary Cooper famously recited Lou Gehrig’s speech that he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Now, another man -- former baseball player Gary Cooper -- is hoping he is lucky enough to qualify for a baseball pension, 44 years after his last MLB game.

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All he needs is one more day on a major league roster.

An online petition is asking the Braves to put Cooper on the roster for one more day so he can qualify for a pension.

In 1980, Cooper spent 42 days on the Braves’ major league roster -- one day shy of becoming eligible. He got into 21 games, including the team’s season finale on Oct. 5, 1980.

At the time, Cooper was 23 and expected to return to Atlanta in 1981. But it never happened. He spent the ‘81 season playing for Durham in the Carolina League, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He played 134 games for the Bulls, but retired after the season.

He realized after applying for a pension years later that he had come up a day short of the 43 needed for retirement money. Cooper made two appeals to committees made up of representatives of MLB and the MLB Players Association, but his request was rejected both times, CNN reported.

“He’s gone through life kind of kind of harder than than a lot of people and a lot of people with the same struggle,” Robert Jonas, a friend and supporter, told WJCL-TV. “But he never he never stopped putting his foot one in front of the other.”

Cooper was thrilled when the Braves called him up and told him to meet the team in Pittsburgh.

“It was just crazy, man. I enjoyed it,” Cooper, 67, told WJCL-TV. “You know, it’s something that every kid wants to do, play professional baseball.”

Cooper had been playing for the Savannah Braves when he reported to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

“I was so excited when I got there, I ended up in the wrong locker room,” Cooper told NPR in an interview on Thursday.

Cooper entered the game in the seventh inning, according to Retrosheet.org. His throw from left field to second base cut down Omar Moreno, who was trying to stretch an RBI single into a double in the ninth inning. His game-ending assist enabled the Braves to win the game 8-6 and give Atlanta an 81-80 record for the season.

He had two at-bats but did not have a hit. He scored three runs and stole two bases, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Jonas said there was precedent for the Braves to lend an assist, citing a 1968 move that allowed future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige to be on the team roster and qualify for a pension, WJCL reported.

Under the pension system, players receive payment for every quarter of service time, which works out to 43 days. Cooper sought an exemption and was denied.

Jonas started a petition drive on Change.org to get enough signatures to convince the Braves to help Cooper realize his dream -- and collect a pension.

As of Saturday night, the petition had more than 10,800 signatures.

“He’s supposed to be enjoying this time,” Jonas told WJCL. “So we’re we’re trying everything we possibly can to help him out.”

“I’ll do my best, whatever it takes,” Cooper told the television station. “You know, bench coach or bullpen coach. Just something just to get there. Just one more day.”

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