July 6, 1949: Reds catcher Walker Cooper has the best game at the plate of any Red in history. In a 23-4 route of the Chicago Cubs, Walker goes 6-6, with three home runs, five runs, 10 rbi, and 15 total bases. The 10 rbi and 15 total bases have been Reds single game records for 60 years. The only other players in major league history to have six hits and three homers in a game are Ty Cobb in 1925, Jimmie Foxx in 1932, and Edgardo Alfonso in 1999 (per “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder, published in 2000). Walker’s hits, runs, and homers totals all tied other Reds single game records.
Walker Cooper was a seven-time all-star that the Reds received in trade from the New York Giants for another veteran catcher, Ray Mueller. Mueller had set a major league record by catching all 155 games in the Reds season in the 1944 season. He went the distance in 135 of those 155 games, batted .286 with 10 homers, and finished seventh in MVP voting. He served in World War II and returned to be a regular in 1946, but then his performance began to suffer. He only played 155 more games over the next 2 1/2 seasons before leaving baseball.
Cooper, though, was still on top of his game. Primarily a hitting catcher, Cooper had been selected as an all-star in six of his previous seven seasons. He finished second in MVP voting in 1943, losing to teammate Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals. Cooper had batted .318 with nine homers and 81 rbi, while Musial batted .357 with 13 homers, 220 hits, and a .988 OPS (well, they didn’t measure OPS then). However, Cooper started slowly in 1949 at age 34, batting only .211 with four homers through his first 42 games of the season with the Giants. Mueller, age 37, was hitting .274 through 32 games for the Reds. The deal was made, a “challenge” trade, catcher for catcher, and the Reds came out on top.
With the Reds, Cooper batted .280 with 16 homers and 62 rbi in 82 games. Included in those totals is the game we started with at the top of this posting, his huge day against the Chicago Cubs, the biggest offensive explosion by a player in Reds history.
Alas, the Reds were a terrible team. They finished 1949 with a 62-92 record, and finished in 7th place, 35 games behind the league champion Brooklyn Dodgers, and only one game ahead of the last place Cubs. The Reds began 1950 with a new manager, Luke Sewell, and Cooper started off slowly, batting .191 through 15 games. Reds second baseman Bobby Adams was coming off one of his pooerer offensive seasons, batting .253 with a .652 OPS. Meanwhile, the Boston Braves had a young second baseman, Roy Hartsfield, they felt was ready to unseat former all-star Connie Ryan. Meanwhile, the Reds had two younger catchers they were willing to try out in Johnny Pramesa and Dixie Howell. So, the Reds dealt Cooper to the Braves for Ryan.
The deal didn’t really turn out as planned. Ryan played most of two seasons for the Reds, batting .246 with an OPS+ of 93 before being dealt to the Phillies with young catcher Smoky Burgess in a deal that brought the Reds veteran catcher Andy Seminick. Seminick does okay with the Reds for a few years while Burgess became an all-star before the Reds got him back a few years later. Ryan only played a couple more years in the majors.
For the Braves, Cooper rebounds and bats .329 with 14 homers in 420 plate appearances, and gets selected to the all-star game that same season. He goes on to play seven more seasons, fading year by year. Meanwhile, the Braves new second baseman, Hartsfield, takes 2 1/2 seasons to play himself out of the major leagues.
For the Reds, Bobby Adams became their third baseman, and the young catchers didn’t really work out as the Reds had to go and get Seminick…and they had to include another young catcher in Burgess to get him. The Reds/Redlegs suffered over the next several years, not surpassing .500 until the 1956 season when they tied the major league record with 221 home runs.
Meanwhile, when you think of slugging Reds catchers, remember the biggest Reds day belonged to catcher Walker Cooper who played all of 97 games with the Reds.