CHICAGO -- Veteran pitching coach Don Cooper starts every game the same way. With a towel draped over his shoulder and a pitch-counting device in hand, he makes the trek from the dugout to the Chicago White Sox bullpen. The grizzled New jersey native watches his starting pitcher throw his 30 or so warm up pitches before taking the mound. Much has changed for Cooper, who had the distinct honor of directing a mostly veteran pitching staff toward dominating the 2005 postseason en route to a world championship.
These days, Cooper helps a young, predominantly left-handed starting rotation learn how to compete in the big leagues. On August 1, the average age of Chicago's starting rotation was 25. Of Cooper's young staff, only John Danks had been a major league starter before 2012.
"Nobody seems to get more out of his pitchers than Cooper does," a veteran National league scout said. "Young guys and old guys get to the White Sox, and they all seem to get better. With all B.S. aside, that is the bottom line in our business. My GM asks all of the scouts what Cooper does, and it appears the answer is a lot. First, and most importantly, he builds confidence in his pupils. I live in Chicago, so I see a lot of the games here. He subtly changes some of his guys while building up self-image. Cooper is also the master of teaching the cut fastball. He has started and resurrected many a lost pitcher."
Cooper was awarded a four-year contract extension before the 2012 season. A major part of the thinking behind hiring an inexperienced manager like Robin Ventura was that management knew the pitching staff was in good hands with the longtime guru under contract control.
"I don’t rank myself," Cooper said. "It is nice to hear people say nice things. It is hard to feel smart right now. In the midst of what we have been going through, I don’t go home thinking how fantastic things are going. I don’t rank myself. I just want to be the best [pitching] coach the White Sox have.”
Cooper, an intense person and competitor, has mellowed a bit since a battle with an illness kept him away from the team early in the season. Proud of his accomplishments, the 57-year-old baseball lifer has not forgotten where he came from. After a brief pitching career in the major leagues, Cooper spent 14 years as a minor league coach before making his way to the big leagues.
"You know you are doing a good job when you continue to get contracts,” Cooper said. “I will say that this is probably the most difficult time that I can remember in the White Sox organization in my 27 years. That being said, I still enjoy and look forward to coming to the park to do [my] job. It is about my job as the pitching coach and the challenges that we throw at them [pitchers] to get better. The pitchers are the ones to get the credit. The coaches create the atmosphere where they come and look forward. This is the best times of their lives. In a lot of ways, it is also the best time of my baseball life; I am blessed to be here."