Monday, February 28, 2011

Clear as a Bell

This dashing fellow is Jimmy Cooney, who was the Brewers' shortstop from 1920-23.

Otto Borchert purchased Cooney's contract from the New York Giants and brought him to Borchert Field in 1920. He spent the next four seasons there, having his best year in 1923. That year he led the American Association in stolen bases, hit .308 and, according to the Milwaukee Journal, "played a sparkling game at short."

This production hadn't gone unnoticed, and the Brewers rejected several offers from big league clubs. Eventually, Cooney threatened to quit organized ball if he wasn't sent to the majors, so in May of 1924 Borchert worked a deal with Branch Rickey of the Cardinals, sending Cooney to St. Louis in exchange for the Redbirds' shortstop Lester Bell and two others.

Cooney went on to a solid major league career. He was with the Cardinals for two seasons before moving to the Chicago Cubs in 1926. In 1927 he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, finishing up his big-league career with the Boston Braves the following year. He is perhaps most notable today for making an unassisted triple play against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 30, 1927. Cooney caught a line drive on the fly, stepped on second base to retire the second out, and then the runner advancing from first to complete the inning.

Les Bell, his replacement at short for the Brewers, had a brief but very successful career in Milwaukee. He tore up Association pitching, ending the 1924 season in a tie for the RBI crown and winning the batting title outright with a .365 average in 630 at-bats. Rickey quickly re-acquired Bell from the Brewers in the off-season. After a single campaign at Borchert Field found himself headed back to St. Louis.

This wheeling and dealing was characteristic of the Brewers' existence as an independent team in the first half of the 20th century. Quick player turnover was common as Otto Borchert and his predecessors and successors tried to buy low and sell high. In this case, it was a single team on the receiving end of Borchert's maneuvering.

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