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Petition wants a 1980 baseball player on the roster for 1 day to qualify for pension


What if you were just one day short of qualifying for a pension? Well, that is what happened to Major League Baseball player Gary Cooper. The 67-year-old Savannah, Ga., native spent 42 days on the Atlanta Braves roster in 1980, and that is just one day short of qualifying for an MLB pension. Now an online petition is asking the Braves to put him on the roster for one more day so he can qualify. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Peter Biello reports.

PETER BIELLO, BYLINE: Gary Cooper was playing with the minor league Savannah Braves in 1980 when he got the call he'd been dreaming of. Pack up, his coach said, because the Atlanta Braves need you in Pittsburgh.

GARY COOPER: I was so excited when I got there, I end up in the wrong locker room. From then on, it been real wonderful ride.

BIELLO: That wonderful ride amounted to 42 days on a major league roster. After that season, he returned to the minors and retired without ever getting back to the big leagues. And when he applied for a pension, he got disappointing news.

COOPER: They reached back to me and said I didn't have enough days.

BIELLO: After his baseball career ended, he floated from job to job. For the past four decades, he's had trouble making ends meet. Sometimes he was unsheltered. He's now living with his niece and working for a landscaping company owned by Robert Jonas.

ROBERT JONAS: I think Gary's situation is kind of falling through the cracks.

BIELLO: One day, Jonas and Cooper talked about his pension woes as they road to a landscaping job.

JONAS: And, you know, he made mention of it again. You could see that was weighing on him pretty heavy. And I told Gary, I said, Gary, I'll help you out any way possible.

BIELLO: He connected Cooper with an attorney who asked MLB and the Players Association to make an exception - denied. The lawyer appealed - denied again. The last option, as Jonas sees it, is for the Atlanta Braves to give him another day on the roster.

JONAS: It's been done before. It's in the history books. It can be done again.

BIELLO: In 1968, the Braves signed 62-year-old pitcher Satchel Paige to help him get his pension. Jonas launched a Change.org petition to ask the Braves to do the same for Gary Cooper, who says he could coach.

COOPER: I ain't got the speed like I used to, but everything else in order.

BIELLO: The Braves have not yet said whether they'd take him on, and it's not clear how much his pension would be. One estimate puts it at about 500 bucks a month, and Cooper says any amount would help.


Peter Biello reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.