Ex-Braves player Gary Cooper petitioning for 'just one day' back in majors to qualify for pension

Cooper, now 67, spent 42 days with the Braves in 1980, falling one day short of the minimum

A petition is hoping to get the Atlanta Braves to sign Gary Cooper to a one-day contract so that he can qualify for a MLB/MLBPA pension. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images)
A petition is hoping to get the Atlanta Braves to sign Gary Cooper to a one-day contract so he can qualify for a MLB/MLBPA pension. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images)

Gary Cooper's experience in the major leagues wasn't very long — 42 days in 1980, to be exact. He played only 21 games for the Atlanta Braves and recorded just two plate appearances. Most of his time in The Show was spent as a pinch runner and outfielder.

Cooper was sent back down to the Savannah Braves of the Southern League after his 42nd day in the majors. He would never spend another day in the big leagues.

A year later, after one season with the Durham Bulls in the Carolina League, Cooper retired at the age of 24.

“I didn’t have nothin’ to prove back in the minors,” Cooper, now 67, told Andscape. “I just felt like it was time to call it quits.”

What Cooper didn't know at the time was that had he spent one more day on the Atlanta Braves' roster — a 43rd day in the majors — he would have qualified for a pension from the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Cooper was denied an exemption in 2017, and he appealed twice to a committee of representatives from MLB and the MLBPA. But, according to CNN Sport, both were rejected under the 43-day rule.

Now an online petition started by a man who employed Cooper at the landscaping company he owns is hoping to help the former ballplayer get his pension. Robert Jonas' goal is to have the Braves sign Cooper to a one-day contract to be on their coaching staff. As of Friday, there are nearly 8,000 signatures.

Today, Gary Cooper lives a spartan lifestyle in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia. In recent years, he has struggled with homelessness, but today at age 67 he is a distinguished senior citizen. Last spring, Mr. Cooper was even inducted into the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame. Prior to the ceremony, he granted a rare interview to Detroit-based journalist Dave Mesrey.

Still, Mr. Cooper has no car, no home to call his own, no savings, no pension, and struggles just to pay his phone bill every month. To help support himself, Mr. Cooper works part-time as a landscaper, but lately work has been scarce.

However, if Mr. Cooper were to serve just one more day on a Major League Baseball roster, he could be eligible to receive a monthly pension.

The current pension system allows players to receive payment for every quarter — or 43 days — of service time in the majors. One quarter in 2021 was valued at $5,750, according to Phoenix-based Athlete Wealth Management.

Satchel Paige faced a similar situation

The Braves have been involved in this type of situation in the past.

Satchel Paige needed 158 days on an active MLB roster to reach the five-year minimum to receive his pension. He reached out to 20 teams in 1968 to join them, but only one was open to the idea: the Braves.

Then-team president William C. Bartholomay signed the future Hall of Famer as a part-time pitcher and team adviser. Paige never played for the Braves, but he earned his pension.

“Whatever they give me, I’ll accept it because it’s been so long, you know?” Cooper, who still lives in Savannah, told Georgia Public Broadcasting. “So anything’ll help.”

Cooper has also received support from Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.

In the meantime, Jonas will continue doing what he can to help Cooper. A GoFundMe was set up, and he has been getting the word out about this situation.

Cooper said he wouldn't know how to react if the Braves reached out to him about this, but he'd be grateful for the assist.

“Just one day. For the two and a half hours that is how long the game lasts, just forget about those 44 years just for that day,” Cooper said.