Former Braves player petitioning for one more day in the majors

Gary Cooper, a 67-year-old Savannah native, needs one day to qualify for a pension

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Gary Cooper experienced the “42 best days” of his life as an MLB player with the Braves during the 1980 season.

He’s spent the decades since wishing his time in the big leagues had lasted one day longer.

A Savannah native, Cooper played in 21 games and made two plate appearances in a late-season call-up from the minor leagues. He was sent back to the Braves’ Double-A affiliate in Savannah in early October – one day short of service time eligibility for a player pension. He never returned to the big leagues, retiring after the 1981 season.

“For those 42 days, I was like a little boy in a candy store. It was awesome; the best feeling,” Cooper told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday. “I’ll always be a major league baseball player. I just needed to be there one more day.”

Under the pension system, players receive payment for every quarter — or 43 days — of service time. In 2021, one quarter was valued at $5,750 annually, according to a Phoenix-based firm that manages wealth for professional athletes.

Cooper, now age 67, sought an exemption to receive the pension in 2017 and was denied. Two subsequent appeals have failed, and he has launched a petition drive – with more than 4,000 signatures to this point – ahead of another appeal.

“They say the third time’s a charm,” Cooper said. “We’ll see.”

Former Braves player Gary Cooper needs one more day in the major leagues to qualify for a pension.

Credit: Photo provided

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Credit: Photo provided

Cooper’s case recently received attention from an article in Andscape and a social media post from Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. Johnson posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) on Tuesday that the Braves should sign Cooper to a one-day contract in order for him to qualify for a pension. Johnson’s post noted that Cooper’s 43rd day would have been a game that was rained out and not rescheduled.

In an interview at his office Wednesday, Johnson appealed to Braves’ management to do for Cooper what they did for baseball icon Satchel Paige in 1968, when they signed the then-62-year-old for one day to qualify him for a pension.

“We go hard in Savannah for Savannahians, and we’re talking about one day,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about the opportunity to do something that will be a small matter for the Braves but that will be huge for this man.”

Cooper’s appeals to a committee – which has equal representation from MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association – were denied based on the facts at hand.

The service-time system is collectively bargained by MLB and the MLBPA – for every day on an active roster in the regular season, a player receives a day of service time. Players who are on a team’s active roster during the regular season for at least 43 days over their careers are eligible for a pension.

Johnson’s post on X mentioned a rainout on the 43rd day for Cooper. However, an off-day counts as a day of service time. Whether the game is played ultimately is irrelevant. If Cooper’s 43rd day were a rainout, then he would have 43 days and be eligible for a pension.

According to committee standards, if money is awarded to someone who doesn’t qualify, there would be less money for those who do.

There are many instances of players who amass 41 or 42 days of service time, and the pension program is not adjusted based on those circumstances.

Cooper, who was known for his speed, was used as a pinch runner and outfielder during his stint with the Braves as a 23-year-old. He had two plate appearances without a hit. He scored three runs and had two stolen bases. He was caught stealing once.

After his stint with the Braves, Cooper was sent back to the minor leagues. He played one more season with the Durham Bulls before retiring from baseball.

“I didn’t have nothin’ to prove back in the minors,” Cooper told Andscape in an article this month. “I just felt like it was time to call it quits.”

The Braves referred questions about Cooper’s case to MLB and the MLBPA, as those two entities administer the pension program.

The Braves signing Cooper for a day also would be logistically impossible. If they did, he would need to be part of the 26-man roster and he would be in the dugout for the game – which means someone currently on the roster would need to be sent to Triple-A. And if Cooper were on the roster, the Braves would need to pay him for a day’s work – prorated from the league minimum of $740,000.

Plus, MLB must approve every transaction. This one – signing Cooper – almost certainly would be denied because it could be viewed as a clear case of a team trying to circumvent the pension plan set by MLB and the MLBPA.