Early in the 1943 season, a report circulated that Mort Cooper, ace of the Cardinals’ rotation, had a sore arm. A few weeks later, The Sporting News claimed “warm weather brought the (arm) around.”
Whatever the explanation, Cooper recovered and delivered one of the most dominating pitching performances in Cardinals history. Cooper is the only Cardinal to pitch one-hitters in consecutive complete-game starts.
In 2012, R.A. Dickey of the Mets became the 10th pitcher in big-league history to allow one hit or fewer in consecutive complete games. Dickey is the second National League pitcher (Jim Tobin of the 1944 Braves is the other) to achieve the feat since Cooper did it for the Cardinals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Cooper’s back-to-back one-hitters came five years after the Reds’ Johnny Vander Meer became the only big-league pitcher to toss consecutive no-hitters.
On Memorial Day, May 31, 1943, Cooper held a star-studded Dodgers lineup to one hit in the Cardinals’ 7-0 victory in the opener of a doubleheader at St. Louis.
Second baseman Billy Herman _ one of three Dodgers in the lineup who would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (left fielder Joe Medwick and third baseman Arky Vaughan were the others) _ got the lone Brooklyn hit. Herman’s double to start the fifth inning was “a high, twisting two-bagger just inside the foul line,” United Press reported.
Brooklyn was shut out for the first time that season. Herman, who also walked, and center fielder Augie Galan, who walked twice, were the only Dodgers baserunners. Cooper struck out two and improved his record to 5-3. His brother, catcher Walker Cooper, and right fielder Stan Musial drove in two runs apiece. Boxscore
“If Cooper still has a sore arm,” wrote Hugh Fullerton Jr. of the Associated Press, “manager Billy Southworth probably wishes that all his other pitchers would go out and get one just like it.”
Four nights later, June 4, at St. Louis, Cooper held the Phillies hitless for seven innings and settled for a one-hitter in the Cardinals’ 5-0 victory.
Phillies left fielder Jimmy Wasdell opened the eighth by lining a single to left. Third baseman Pinky May, who reached on an error by Cooper and then was erased on a double play, was the only other Phillies baserunner. Cooper struck out five in a game that took just 1:42 to complete. Boxscore
Jack Cuddy of United Press described why Cooper was so effective:
Mort can provide the pitch that’s needed at a proper time _ fastball, screwball, forkball or curve. His fastball is the most effective pitch. This is blurred lightning, with a hop at the end. But to southpaw batsmen, he feeds screwballs, keeping them on the outside so that they can’t be pulled to right field.
Right-handed hitters get the fastball and the forkball. The latter approaches the plate in drunken fashion, like a knuckler’s butterfly pitch. It’s almost impossible to smack the “fork” solidly. In addition, Mort has unusual control. With a 3-and-2 count on the batsman, he can produce a feint or an actual in the strike zone that forces (1) a waiting called strike or (2) a whiff.
In his start after the second one-hitter, Cooper pitched another complete game and earned the win in the Cardinals’ 4-3 victory over the Pirates on June 9 at St. Louis. The Pirates got seven hits, two apiece by center fielder Vince DiMaggio and pitcher Rip Sewell. Boxscore
Helping the Cardinals win their second consecutive NL pennant, Cooper, 30, finished 1943 with a 21-8 record and 2.30 ERA in 37 games. The right-hander had six shutouts and 24 complete games among his 32 starts. His back-to-back gems in 1943 would be the only one-hitters of his 11-year major-league career.
Previously: Home cooking for Mort Cooper