This article was written by Mike Cooney
Bill Cooney was part of an extended family of professional ballplayers. He was related to Jimmy Cooney, who played major-league baseball in the 1890s and was the father of major leaguers Jimmy and Johnny Cooney as well as having two other sons who played minor-league baseball.1
William Ambrose (or as he was known at various times, Bill, Cush, Smiling Bill, or Billy) Cooney was born on April 7, 1883, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a section of Boston. His father, Luke, and mother, Anna, were born and married in Ireland. After having two children while in Ireland, in 1876 the family emigrated to America, where they had four more children with Bill being the last. Luke Cooney was a manual laborer.2
Bill Cooney, throwing right-handed, pitched for his Roxbury high school team3 and later played on the Roxbury All Saints team, which was sponsored by the All Saints Church.4 At some point he also played with Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, although it’s unclear if he attended the private school.5
It is unclear how Cooney’s baseball career progressed from the All Saints to the professional ranks. Baseball reference sites indicate Cooney attended and may have played for Princeton University.6 However, Princeton records and a review of box scores show that only James Cooney, who was also a football All-American, played baseball for Princeton during the time Bill Cooney could have played.
Box scores and game reports in the New England area in 1904 and 1905 contained numerous mentions of the Cooney name. However, no first name was given to indicate which Cooney played for which team. In fact, in 1905 there was reference to five Cooneys playing for five different teams at the same time. It is safe to speculate that Bill Cooney was active in the New England League in 1905, and perhaps earlier.
Regardless, by the end of the 1906 season, Bill Cooney, at the age of 23, was pitching for the Lowell Tigers of the Class B New England League.7 The following year, it appears, Cooney pitched and played third base for the Lynn Shoemakers, also of the New England League.8
By the 1908 season, Cooney pitched and played shortstop for a Fitchburg, Massachusetts, team. On Memorial Day he pitched in both games of a doubleheader against the New York Colored Giants. He started the afternoon game at shortstop before moving to the mound.9 Those would be Cooney’s last games with Fitchburg. After the games, Cooney was signed to play shortstop for the Fall River Indians of the New England League.10
While signed to play shortstop, Cooney was called on to pitch in several games.11 However, after appearing in 30 games with a mediocre .228 batting average, he was released. Upon his release, according to the Fall River Daily Globe, the Lynn, Massachusetts, paper commented: “Cooney played marvelous ball at short for Fall River … and now he is out of the game. How things go in baseball is mystifying.”12
After his release from Fall River, it appears Cooney played briefly with the 1908 Haverhill Hustlers, also of the New England League.13 Before the start of the 1909 season the Boston Globe reported that “Billy Cooney of Roxbury … goes to Jimmy Collins’s Minneapolis club.”14 Instead of going to Minneapolis, Cooney stayed in Boston, choosing to play with an independent team called the Boston Red Sox.15 In late May, he was drafted by the Haverhill Hustlers. The Hustlers planned to use him as both a shortstop and a pitcher.16
By mid-June Haverhill considered it had “three great combination players.” One of the three was Bill Cooney, “a pitcher sometimes used at short.”17 By late June, Cooney was being touted as having “tickled the Haverhill fans with his sensational fielding at short and his success with the big stick is leading the Shoetown sluggers. The former Fall Riverite is now atop with a .318 (batting average).”18
The Fall River Daily Globe later commented: “Billy Cooney, the former Fall River shortstop, has developed into a corking pitcher. Not only has Haverhill found him a fast shortstop and a heavy hitter, but he has already pitched and won four games.”19 The Fitchburg Sentinel later reported that “Cooney … is one of the most valuable men in the New England League today. He has won six games without a skip, and when not in the box plays short or second base like the best of them.”20 The Boston Globe commented: “his size alone being a handicap.”21 He would later claim to be of medium height and medium weight.22
By the end of August, Cooney’s hitting had tailed off to a .265 average and his pitching record showed three losses, all to the Brockton Tigers.23 Still, on September 1, the Boston Doves24 of the National League acquired Cooney via the Rule 5 draft. Three weeks later, on September 22, he made his major-league debut when he pitched four innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After the game. The Fall River Daily Globe reported: “The fans here were interested in the man from Haverhill and gave him a good reception. Had Cooney been sent in after (Buster) Brown the Boston team would no doubt have won.”25
At the same time, the Boston Globe reported that Pirates manager Fred Clarke told Boston manager Harry Smith: “If you haven’t any room in the car for that lad Cooney, who pitched against us yesterday, I’ll arrange to see he is wintered properly and has a job next spring; but Smith only laughed and said he thought he would hold on to the youngster.”26
Cooney’s next opportunity came September 24 against the Chicago Cubs after Doves starter Chick Evans hurt his hand. Cooney “started by making a throw into the grandstand.”27 After the errant first pitch, he struck out Jimmy Archer before giving up one unearned run the next inning.28 The following day Cooney was again called on in relief.
After three games, Cooney had pitched a total of 6⅓ innings and had been charged with one earned run while going 2-for-4 at the plate. Despite his 1.42 ERA, Cooney would not take a major-league mound again.
Cooney finished the 1909 season appearing in one game at second base and one at shortstop. In preparation for the 1910 season, Cooney was scheduled to be with Doves manager Fred Lake on the train to Augusta for spring training. Despite having played in only five games in 1909, Cooney was the last Doves holdout when he failed to agree to his contract until minutes before the train was to leave.29
With the start of spring training, Cooney was in competition with Gus Getz for the third-base job.30 When the Doves left spring training to begin the regular season, former New York Giant Buck Herzog was named the starting third baseman. Cooney broke camp as a utility player.31
Cooney’s first four appearances came as a pinch-hitter. After going 2-for-4 in those appearances, he earned his first start of the season against the Brooklyn Dodgers. After the game, the Boston Globe commented: “Young Cooney looks like a hustler. His hit in the first inning was a pretty thing to see.”32
That would be his last major-league hit. After one more start, in which he apparently “could not seem to judge balls on a fly to right field”33 and two more pinch-hitting appearances, Cooney was sold to the Lowell Tigers.
Despite a major-league career 1.42 ERA and .273 batting average, albeit in three games pitched and a total of 13 games with a plate appearance, Cooney would never play another game in the major leagues. One could speculate that he may have had arm trouble, which precluded him from taking the mound, and that his difficulty in playing the outfield kept him from returning to the major leagues.
On May 16, 1910, Cooney made his debut with Lowell at shortstop.34A week later, The Fall River Daily Globe included a comment from the New Bedford Mercury: “Bill Cooney is giving a polished exhibition of fielding for Lowell but is not hitting.”35By mid-July the Daily Globe had a different spin when it reported: “Bill Cooney may not be the most graceful shortstop in the league but he gets in and successfully fights about everything which comes his way.”36
In the same issue, Cooney’s play in a game against the Fall River Indians was described this way: “Everything looked alike to Mr. Cooney at short and he gobbled up all kinds of grounders with a skill that aroused the applause of the fans.”37
While most game reports either lauded his fielding prowess or at least his being able to get the job done in the field, Cooney finished the season with 58 errors at shortstop. At the plate, he finished the season with a .269 average.38
Cooney returned to the Tigers for the 1911 season with a salary of $250 per month.39 Though returning as the Tigers’ shortstop, Cooney was occasionally called upon to pitch when the starting pitcher struggled. At the same time, he continued to be lauded for his fielding — and his hitting.40
By August 2, the Lynn News speculated that it “looks as though Cooney of Lowell might get another chance in the big show after this season.”41 Two weeks later Cooney had a game to forget. In a game against Fall River, he made five throwing errors, including two on the same play, allowing the tying run to score. He also stopped a rally in the third inning when he was picked off second base.42 Still, by the end of the season Cooney finished with the second most hits in the league and a .314 batting average.43
Not only did no major-league team invite Cooney to spring training, but by March of 1912 the Lowell Grays (the team had changed its name from Tigers to Grays after the 1911 season) were trying to sell him44 due to his “holding out for a big raise in pay.”45
By late April, the Fitchburg Sentinel reported, “Cooney has seen the error of his ways and appeared at short for Lowell Thursday. (He) tried to play the hold-out game but the champions called his bluff.”46
Cooney’s return to Lowell didn’t last long. On June 11 he was “released” to the Haverhill Hustlers. In return, Haverhill “released” Ed MacGamwell to Lowell.47 Cooney’s tenure got off to a rough start when Jack Carney signed with Haverhill, causing the Sentinel to ask: “Where will Cooney go?”48
Less than a week later, Cooney was called on to pitch in relief of Larry Kesler. While pitching into his third inning, he “twisted a ligament in his side trying to throw a wide curve.”49 Cooney’s injury kept him out of the lineup for several weeks.50 When he returned, he served as a utilityman in the field where, apparently, his performance was wanting.
As a result, on August 8 he was sold on option to the league rival Lynn Leonardites.51 Lynn planned to use Cooney at shortstop. Shortly after he joined the Leonardites, his performance was reported as: “didn’t look so good,”52 “Cooney’s whip needs a new lash,” and “Lynn didn’t get any stronger.”53 On August 21 the Cooney experiment ended when Lynn sent him back to Haverhill, where he was scheduled to play out the season in right field.54
After a rough 1912, Cooney joined the Fall River Adopted Sons (formerly the Indians) of the New England League, where he was slated to play the infield.55 Team captain Frank Courtney said he wanted the high-priced Cooney to be one of his main relievers, but was concerned that playing half a game at second base and then moving to the mound might be too much.56 Courtney’s concern did not keep him from using Cooney both ways.
Cooney responded in the field, on the mound, and at bat. Before long, he not only was being used as a reliever, he was taking his turn as a starter. Newspaper reports applauded his play and often credited him for Fall River victories. He did lose time in late May due to a sprained ankle.57 When he returned from his injury he continued to excel. By June 30 Cooney, in 24 games, had a strong .324 batting average along with five wins and four losses on the mound.
Despite his strong performance during the first half of the Adopted Sons season, his name never appeared in another game report or box score after June 30. (A Cooney is listed as playing 61 games at shortstop for Worcester, but instead of Bill Cooney, it was probably Jimmy Cooney.)
It appears Bill Cooney’s career ended with the 1913 season.
Cooney moved back to Boston, where he moved in with his sister, Annie, and her husband, Boston Fire Commissioner Theodore Glynn. With his playing days over, Cooney decided to stay in baseball as an umpire.58 His post-baseball career started when he became a paving inspector for the city. On September 12, 1918, at the age of 35, Cooney registered for the draft.59 Two months later, World War I ended.
By 1920 Cooney had moved from paving inspector to sewers inspector for the Boston Public Works Department.60
On November 6, 1928, Cooney was still working as a sewer inspector and living with the Glynns. He got up early in the morning planning to go to the polls to vote. As he was leaving the house, he felt a sharp pain in his left arm. He quickly returned to the house and, although he was thought to be in good health, he died of an apparent heart attack. He was 45 years old.61
Cooney is buried in the New Calvary Cemetery in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston.62
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com.
1 “Cooney, Ex-Ball Player Dies on Way Out to Vote,” Boston Globe, November 6, 1928: 15.
2 1900 United States Census.
3 “Picked Team 6, Roxbury High 4,” Boston Globe, May 17, 1900: 4.
4 “Cooney, Ex-Ball Player Dies on Way Out to Vote.”
5 “N.E. League Notes,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Daily Globe, July 3, 1908: 7.
7 “Gave Sorry Exhibition and Suffered Defeat,” Fall River Daily Globe, August 23, 1906: 7.
8 Based on a review of box scores in the Boston Globe and Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel.
9 “Fitchburgs Break Even with Colored Giants,” Fitchburg Sentinel, June 1, 1908: 6.
10 “O’Brien Busy Handing Out Releases to Several Players on the Fall River team,” Fall River Daily Globe, June 5, 1908: 5.
11 Based on a review of box scores in the Fall River Daily Globe.
12 “N.E. League Notes,” Fall River Daily Globe, July 28, 1908: 7.
13 “Wood’s Will-o-the-Wisp’s Had Haverhill Hypnotized,” Fall River Daily Globe, May 21, 1909: 9.
14 “New England League Dates,” Boston Globe, February 20, 1909: 4.
15 The Boston Americans did not become the Red Sox until 1909.
16 “Wood’s Will-o-the-Wisp’s Had Haverhill Hypnotized.”
17 “N.E. League Notes,” Fall River Daily Globe, June 16, 1909: 7.
18 “N.E. League Notes,” Fall River Daily Globe, June 30, 1909: 7.
19“N.E. League Notes,” Fall River Daily Globe, July 8, 1909: 7.
20 “Diamond Points,” Fitchburg Sentinel, August 5, 1909: 3.
21 “Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, August 13, 1909: 5.
22 US World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
23 “Wood at the top,” Fall River Daily Globe, August 25, 1909: 7.
25 “Cooney Twirls Well for Boston After Pirates Gained Lead on Others,” Fall River Daily Globe, September 23, 1909: 7.
26 “No Game at Pittsburgh,” Boston Globe, September 24, 1909: 5.
27 “Boxman Proved Easy, Doves Nearly Shutout,” Fall River Daily Globe, September 25, 1909: 7.
28 “Boxman Proved Easy.”
29 “Donovan Used 22 Red Sox in Game,” Boston Globe, March 15. 1910: 7.
30 “Sorting Out the Fielders,” Boston Globe, March 19, 1910: 5.
31 “Four Changes on Doves,” Boston Globe, April 10, 1910: 60.
32 “Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, April 28, 1910: 7.
33 “Giants Beat Phillies in 13 Innings, Chicago Defeats St. Louis,” Boston Globe, April 29, 1910: 7.
34 “Lowell 4, Haverhill 3, Fall River Daily Globe, May 16, 1910: 3.
35 “Play and Player,” Fall River Daily Globe, May 25, 1910: 8.
36 “New England League,” Fall River Daily Globe, July 12, 1910: 10.
37 “Lowell Wins by Strong Batting,” Fall River Daily Globe, July 12, 1910: 3.
38 “New England League Official Averages,” Boston Globe, November 14, 1910: 11.
39 “Busters’ Salary List Is $2195,” Fall River Daily Evening News, May 24, 1911: 3.
40 Based on a review of box scores and game reports in the Fall River Daily Globe, Fall River Daily Evening News, and Boston Globe.
41 “N.E. League Notes,” Fall River Daily Globe, August 2, 1911: 10.
42 “Brinies in at the Death, Though It Took 10 Innings,” Fall River Daily Globe, August 16, 1911: 7.
43 “Barrows in First Place,” Fall River Daily Globe, September 12, 1911: 7.
44 “Lowell,” Boston Globe, March 22, 1912: 3.
45 “The World of Sports,” Fitchburg Sentinel, April 23, 1912: 6.
46“The World of Sports,” Fitchburg Sentinel, April 26, 1912: 6.
47 “Worcester Drops Three,” Boston Globe, June 12, 1912: 7.
48 “General Sporting News,” Fitchburg Sentinel, June 18, 1912: 6.
49 “Game a Farce After Fourth Inning,” Fall River Daily Evening News, June 24, 2012: 3.
50 “Haverhill,” Boston Globe, July 8, 1912: 7.
51 “Cooney Sold to Lynn Club,” Fall River Daily Evening News, August 9, 1912: 4.
52 “Lowell,” Fitchburg Sentinel, August 14, 1912: 6.
53 “General Sports News,” Fitchburg Sentinel, August 15, 1912: 7.
54 “Cooney Sent Back to Haverhill,” Boston Globe, August 21, 1912: 7.
55 “Baseball Squad Begins Practice,” Fall River Daily Evening News, April 17, 1913: 2.
56 “Athletic Fielders. Facts and Gossip Heard and Seen at the Game with Lowell,” Fall River Daily Evening News, May 8, 1913: 5.
57 “General Sporting News,” Fitchburg Sentinel, May 17, 1913: 7.
58 “Cooney, Ex-Ball Player Dies on Way Out to Vote,” Boston Globe, November 6, 1928: 15.
59 US World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
60 1920 United States Federal Census.
61 Cooney, Ex-Ball Player Dies on Way Out to Vote.”