Mort Cooper

How Mort Cooper won the 1942 NL MVP Award

After a dominant season in which he led all of baseball with 22 wins – including 10 shutouts – and paced the National League with a 1.78 ERA, Cardinals right-hander Mort Cooper was named the National League MVP.

On a Cardinals team that won the World Series with contributions from most of its roster, Cooper was the unquestioned ace of St. Louis’s pitching staff. As the Cardinals battled the Dodgers for National League supremacy, skipper Billy Southworth repeatedly handed the ball to Cooper, and Cooper repeatedly rewarded him with wins. In fact, Cooper beat the Dodgers five times during the regular season, victories that proved key as St. Louis edged Brooklyn by just two games in the pennant race.

“No spots, except the tough ones, were picked for Cooper,” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s J. Roy Stockton. “He was the spearhead of the team’s offensive. When there was a key game – and there were many of them – Mort Cooper drew the pitching assignment. And invariably he drew the best the enemy had available as his mound opponent. When the Cardinals played the Dodgers and Mort Cooper pitched, Leo Durocher usually countered with Whit Wyatt. And because Cooper was able to beat Wyatt consistently, the Cardinals were able to whittle down the Brooklyn lead.”[1]

On October 27, Cooper was rewarded with 13 of 24 first-place MVP votes, helping him finish with 263 of a possible 336 points. He was the only player whose name appeared on all 24 ballots, and with the honor, he Carl Hubbell (1934 and 1936), Dizzy Dean (1934), and Bucky Walters (1939) as the only pitchers to win the NL MVP.

National League MVP Mort Cooper

Cooper’s historic achievement came on the heels of a season that saw him post a 1.78 ERA over 278 2/3 innings. Despite undergoing surgery the previous year, Cooper went 22-7 in 1942 and threw a complete game in all 22 of those wins.

Though he ended the month of May with just a 4-3 record, Cooper was dominant in June, winning all seven of his starts and lowering his ERA to 1.24. In July, however, he won just one game, and though he earned his 13th win on August 2, by August 14 he was looking for anything to change his luck. To do so, he replaced his No. 13 jersey with No. 14.

It turned out, he looked pretty good in the 14 jersey, throwing a two-hit shutout to earn his career-high 14th win of the season. From that point forward, Cooper’s number matched the win he was seeking. He won nine of his final 10 decisions, throwing nine complete games and four shutouts. Cooper’s 10 shutouts that season was the most by any National League pitcher since 1933.

The MVP voting took place before the World Series began, and that likely was a good thing for the right-hander, who went 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 innings during the fall classic.

1942 Cardinals Dominate MVP Voting

Teammate Enos Slaughter finished second in the MVP balloting with 200 points, including six first-place votes. The New York Giants’ Mel Ott placed third with 190 points, including four first-place votes. The only other player in the league to receive a first-place vote was Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion, who received one. He finished seventh in the balloting with 81 points.

The Cardinals had several other players appear on the voters’ ballots. Mort’s brother Walker Cooper received 28 points, rookie Stan Musial had 26, Johnny Beazley and Jimmy Brown had 24, Terry Moore had 15, and Whitey Kurowski had six.

St. Louis had so many viable candidates that when Dick Farrington of The Sporting News told Cooper that he had been named MVP, Cooper said, “Who, me? Say, there were other boys just as valuable as myself, and, maybe some of the fellows had more to do with winning the pennant. I can name you Enos Slaughter, Johnny Beazley, Jimmy Brown, Terry Moore, Marty Marion, my brother, Walker, and, why – well, I guess every fellow on our club.”[2]

At an event a few days later in New York, Southworth pointed to the team’s depth of talent as the reason the Cardinals were able to win 106 regular-season games and then beat the Yankees in a five-game World Series.

“We had a great bunch of youngsters with strong arms and strong legs and fast legs,” Southworth said. “They worked together. We didn’t have a recognized star on our ball club, not to the boys themselves. I know that Mort Cooper was voted the most valuable player in the National League, but more than half a dozen other fellows on the club also received votes and you might just as well say Walker Cooper, our fine catcher and Mort’s brother, deserved the honor.”[3]

In the Post-Dispatch, Stockton pointed to Marion’s defense, Slaughter’s hitting down the stretch, Moore’s play late in the season, and Walker Cooper’s play behind the plate among the factors that made it difficult to point to a single Cardinals player as an MVP.[4]

“In the case of a ballclub like the Cardinals, with every player so important, it is difficult to pick out one and say that he was the most valuable,” Stockton wrote. “But there should be little argument over the fairness of the baseball writers’ votes, which gave Morton Cooper an honor that had to go to an individual.”[5]

Mort Cooper: Cardinals Hall of Famer

Cooper continued to play a key role for the Cardinals as they won the National League pennant each of the next two years. In 1943, Cooper placed fifth in the MVP vote after a 21-8 season that included a 2.30 ERA. In 1944, he placed ninth in the balloting with similar numbers, going 22-7 with a 2.46 ERA and a league-high seven shutouts.

In May 1945, Cooper briefly left the team in the midst of a contract dispute. He and his brother Walker wanted $15,000, but Cardinals president Sam Breadon refused to exceed $13,500). In response, the Cardinals traded him to the Braves for Red Barrett and a reported $50,000.[6]

In his eight seasons with the Cardinals, Cooper went 105-50 with a 2.77 ERA. He was posthumously inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2019.

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[1] J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 1942.

[2] Sid Keener, “Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star and Times, October 29, 1942.

[3] Judson Bailey (Associated Press), “Saints and Sinners Club ‘Roasts’ Billy Southworth,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 30, 1942.

[4] J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 1942.

[5] J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 1942.

[6] Sid C. Keener, “Three Insubordination Acts Prompted Trade of Cooper,” St. Louis Star and Times, May 24, 1945.

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