Former Braves player needs 1 day to get his MLB pension. A petition is pushing to make that happen

SAVANNAH, Ga. — There’s a new push to get a former Atlanta Braves outfielder his pension from Major League Baseball after he finished his career one day short of being eligible.

For 42 days, Gary Cooper fulfilled his dream of putting on a MLB uniform.

“It was just crazy, man. I enjoyed it,” the 67-year-old told Channel 2′s ABC affiliate WJCL. “You know, it’s something that every kid wants to do, play professional baseball.”

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Cooper grew up in Savannah, attended Robert W. Groves High School and eventually signed with the Braves organization in 1975. After five years playing in the minor leagues, he got the call-up to play for manager Bobby Cox.

It was the late Braves legend and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron who said the team needed Cooper’s speed and advocated for his callout from AA Savannah Braves, Cooper told ESPN’s Andscape, its publication formerly known as The Undefeated.

He made his debut on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates and threw the game-winning out.

“That was one of my biggest thrills in the major leagues. It was just like hitting a home run to win the game,” Cooper said.


Cooper would finish the 1980 season after 21 games with the Braves before he returned to the minor leagues in 1981 and retired from baseball that same year.

But under the collective bargaining agreement at the time, players had to spend at least 43 days with a team to be eligible for a pension. Cooper spent only 42 days.

Cooper has already appealed to a committee for Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. He’s been denied twice. Now, he’s getting support from his community as he tries to appeal it a third time.

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

Jonas hired Cooper as a part-time employee with his landscaping business. Jonas created a Change.org petition asking the Braves to hire Cooper to a one-day contract on their coaching staff.

It has received thousands of signatures so far and Jonas also created a GoFundMe. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson also voiced his support.

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

It wouldn’t be the first time that the Braves signed a former player who finished short of qualifying. CNN reports that the Braves signed Satchel Paige to their coaching staff in 1968 after other teams said no.

Per MLB rules, any team could sign Cooper, but would have to make a roster spot available, even if it’s just for one day. The league must also approve the transaction.

Cooper says he just wants a chance for Day 43.

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

Channel 2 Action News reached out to the Atlanta Braves who directed us to MLB and MLBPA since it is their pension program. So far, no statements have been issued by either organization.

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