This article was written by Ralph Berger
After the Civil War, students at the University of Pennsylvania were the driving force at the school in developing the popularity of baseball. The first games were played between classes and clubs. Soon the college administration began supporting the students who wished to play baseball. The game eventually became a staple at Penn and at other colleges. Since professional baseball had no farm systems at the time, colleges became a valued source of players for the professional leagues. The games were also popular with fans: at Penn during the 1890s, attendance at games ranged from 2,000, to as high as five thousand fans. The local papers reported the games and never failed to mention what prominent person or persons were in attendance.
According to baseball-reference.com, fifty-three University of Pennsylvania alumni have played in the major leagues. Among them was Daniel George Coogan.
“Little Danny Coogan, Little Danny Coogan.” The chant would erupt from the college fans when Coogan, a 128-pound, 5-foot 6-inch catcher would come to bat. What mighty mite Googan lacked in physical stature he made up with his hustle, intelligence, and determination.
Danny Coogan was born on February 16, 1875, in South Philadelphia to Emma and John Coogan. His father, a barber, died when Danny was one year old. Six months later his mother passed away. Danny was raised by his grandmother, who, when he was 8 years old placed him in Girard College, a school for orphans in Philadelphia founded by Stephen Girard, a wealthy merchant and banker. The school provided shelter, clothing, and a solid education for its boys. Though Girard’s high school division had only about 500 students, it was a rich source of playing talent. Coogan was one of twenty-three players from Girard who played in the major leagues in the Deadball Era. Among them were such stalwarts as Harry Davis, Jocko Milligan, and John Lush.
A good student at Girard, Coogan earned honors for his academics and conduct. He was a third baseman and a catcher on the Girard nine. After graduating from Girard in 1892, Coogan entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he played baseball for four years, 1892-1895. He was elected the team’s captain in his senior year. At Penn he teamed up with another Girard graduate, pitcher Clarence Bayne, to form a powerful battery. Bayne was considered a major-league talent-scouts were after him to turn pro but he died of appendicitis in his junior year. (At the moment one Penn graduate is playing in the major leagues, Mark DeRosa a former quarterback on the Penn football team. Another fine player from Penn, now retired from baseball, is Doug Glanville.)
Summer found Coogan honing his baseball skills while playing for either the Atlantic City or Cape May baseball teams. (Colleges frowned on their players joining semipro or professional teams in the off-season, but it was a widespread practice.)
In the early stages of college baseball, there were no coaches. The first coach of the Penn nine was Arthur Irwin, hired in 1893. Before that, the captains and the managers, all students, picked the teams, ran the practices, and filled the role of present-day managers and coaches.
Also, many college ballplayers played professional baseball before becoming students. Added to this mixture of players at Penn were graduate students at the medical, dental, veterinary, and law schools. Eventually the Pennsylvania Athletic Association was formed to eliminate abuses and establish uniform rules, and it ruled against such practices. Penn ignored the association’s mandate until in December of 1893 it prohibited professional baseball players and graduate students from playing on the university team. All colleges eventually followed suit.
Danny Coogan’s career in the major leagues was short and not so sweet. Leaving Penn before he graduated, he joined the Washington team of the National League on April 25, 1895. Coogan played in only 26 games for Washington as a utility man — 18 games at shortstop, five games as a catcher, two games in the outfield and one game at third base. He had 17 hits in 77 official times at bat for a batting average of .221, scored nine runs, drove in seven runs, and stole one base. He drew 13 walks, which raised his on-base percentage to.333.
From 1896 to 1898, Coogan played for Providence in the Eastern League and in 1900 for Rochester of the same league. He also played for Cortland of the New York League in 1900 and for Utica of the same league in 1901. Coogan also played with Louisville of the American Association in 1901. He finished his playing career with Schenectady in 1902 and 1903. During these years he also coached at Virginia Wesleyan, Episcopal Academy, and Union College
Little Danny Coogan could not make it in the big leagues but he made his mark by coaching many college teams. He taught the game at colleges up and down the East Coast from Maine to Pennsylvania and beyond.
Coogan returned to Penn to coach the varsity baseball team from 1904 until 1906, taking over from Roy Thomas, who had been a teammate at Penn and played major-league ball with the Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1899 through 1911. In 1906, Hughie Jennings, the Hall of Famer who coached the Cornell baseball team, recommended Coogan as his replacement when he became manager of the Detroit Tigers. Coogan coached the Big Red baseball team from 1906 through 1913. In 1915 Coogan coached baseball at Bowdoin College (he was followed at Bowdoin by another Girard College graduate and former major leaguer, Benjamin Franklin Houser, who coached there from 1916 through 1931). Coogan also coached at Georgetown University, in 1914. During World War I Coogan was in charge of physical education for the Canadian army. He later served in a similar role for the state of Pennsylvania. In 1926 he was hired to be the trainer of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, the forerunners of the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League. His skill as a trainer helped reduce injuries among the gridders.
In 1934, Coogan again returned to his alma mater, Penn, to assist a former player whom he had coached there, Dr. Walter Criss. Together they coached the varsity baseball team. For a number of years Coogan also coached the freshman baseball team.
Coogan was a genial and warm man. His Irish wit and humor made him well-liked wherever he went.
Daniel George Coogan died on October 28, 1942, at the Philadelphia General Hospital after an illness of nine months. He was 67 years old. His obituary in the New York Times mentioned no surviving relatives. He is buried in Holy Cross cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.
Lee, Bill. The Baseball Necrology. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2003.
Nemec, David. The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Baseball. New York: Donald Fine Books, 1997
Penn Baseball in the 1800’s. Online. From Student Origins to University Administration.
Penn Biographies, Daniel George Coogan. University of Pennsylvania Archives, online.
Girard College Archives