This article was written by Alan Cohen
“I’m just a guy who worked hard to get into this position. Nobody recruited me out of high school. The Houston kids got all the publicity. If a scout came to town, we all figured he was from the marines. I had to go to a tryout camp to get a junior college scholarship. I had to earn my way to (the University of) Texas and then into the big leagues. I was an 18th round pick. Tell you the truth, I’m glad it worked out that way. I think when the odds are against you, you work harder because there’s nothing to lose. I’ve always been a longshot.”
– Dennis Cook, March 19911
Dennis Bryan Cook was born on October 4, 1962, in La Marque, Texas, in the Houston metropolitan area. His parents were William Robert and Janet Esther (Winquest) Cook. His mother and her parents had immigrated to the United States from Sweden when Janet was a child.
Dennis graduated from Dickinson High School, where he had played for coach Dale Westmoreland, in 1981, and spent two years at Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas. In January 1983, during his second year at Angelina, Cook was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres. He stayed in school and, after playing summer ball with the Alaska Goldpanners in 1983, transferred to the University of Texas for his last two years. While there, he was selected as a utility outfielder for the All-Southwest Conference Team. In each of his two years at Texas, the Longhorns lost in the final game of the College World Series.
Cook’s sacrifice fly in the 10th inning of the regional final against Lamar advanced second-ranked Texas to the 1984 College World Series. That, and a three-run homer in a prior tournament win against UNLV, helped win him recognition as the Most Valuable Player in the NCAA Central Regional.2 In the 1984 CWS, his two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning gave Texas a 6-4 win over Cal-Fullerton in the second round. In the next game, his third-inning single tied the game as the Longhorns went on to defeat Arizona State. As a senior, Cook also played in the 1985 CWS, and his five-inning scoreless relief stint against Arkansas gave Texas a place in the championship game against Miami, but the Longhorns lost to the Hurricanes, 10-6. Cook was named to the All-Tournament team as an outfielder. Indeed, he was the fifth pitcher for the pitching-rich Longhorns. Among his college teammates were pitchers Greg Swindell and Bruce Ruffin.
Cook was chosen in the 18th round of the June 1985 draft by the San Francisco Giants and signed by scout Andy Korenek. He was assigned to Clinton, Iowa, in the Class-A Midwest League. With Clinton, he was 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 games, all as a starter. The next season, at Fresno in the Class-A California League, Cook was 12-7 with a 3.97 ERA. In 1987, he got off to a great start with Shreveport in the Double-A Texas League, winning his first four decisions as his team took an early lead in the league’s Eastern Division.3 He was 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA when he was promoted to the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, Phoenix, where he was 2-5 in 12 games.
In 1988 Cook was back with Phoenix, but he was sidelined with cracked ribs and made only two appearances after July 27.4 His record was 11-9, and he was not in the Giants’ plans for the stretch drive. However, the Giants needed help when Mike Krukow was ruled out for the balance of the year, and the status of Mike LaCoss and Kelly Downs became questionable. Cook went from looking for a postseason job to figuring in the Giants plans in September.
He made his first appearance with the Giants on September 12, 1988, getting the start and keeping the opposition hitless until the fourth inning. He allowed no runs and two hits in 5⅓ innings as San Francisco defeated San Diego, 4-2. It was the first of his 64 major-league wins. After the game, he said, “I guess I was too excited to feel any pressure. I just wanted to go out, throw strikes, and let the chips fall. All my pitches were working, but my split finger and the fastball were the best.”5
On September 25 at Candlestick Park, Cook was given the ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants by then had been eliminated from contention and the Dodgers were on the verge of clinching the division title. Cook allowed only two hits, none after the third inning, and struck out seven as the Giants won, 2-0. In all, he appeared in four games in 1988, going 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA.
Cook started the 1989 season at Phoenix and was 7-4 when he was called up to the majors in June. After a complete-game win against Cincinnati on June 18, he was traded to the Phillies. The Phillies sent pitcher Steve Bedrosian to the Giants for Cook, Terry Mulholland, and minor-league infielder Charlie Hayes. Cook went 6-8 with Philadelphia, but finished strong, shutting out Montreal, 2-0, in his last start of the season, on September 29.
“I prided myself on being a baseball player. Not just a pitcher. Not just a hitter. But a baseball player. That’s the way I played since I was eight years old, and I didn’t see any reason to stop playing that way.”6
Cook endeared himself to Philadelphia fans early on. In his third start, he was pitching against John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves. When the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, they trailed 2-1. Cook led off and dragged a bunt to the right side. Sliding head-first into first base, he was safe on the play. He was unable to advance, as he was forced at second in an inning-ending double play, but his style of play set him apart.
The hit was Cook’s fourth since joining the Phillies, and after three starts, he was 4-for-9 as a hitter and 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA as a pitcher. After six starts in 1990, he was 5-0 with a 1.46 ERA. His wins included two complete games, of which one was a three-hit shutout of the Cardinals on April 20. (The shutout was the third and last of his career.) However, after his fifth win, on May 13, Cook had six starts in which he did not get a win. His record slipped to 5-2, and he was assigned to the bullpen. All but one of his remaining 29 appearances with the Phillies in 1990 were in relief, including a game at Pittsburgh on July 27 when he pitched five scoreless innings. Phillies manager Nick Leyva sent Cook into the game as a pinch-hitter in the second inning with the game tied, 2-2. He pitched innings two through six, giving up only two hits. The Phillies won, Cook’s seventh win of the season.
Intensity was a big part of the Cook pedigree and on August 9, 1990, he was ejected following a brawl between the Phillies and the New York Mets. After Mets starter Dwight Gooden hit two Philadelphia batters, the Phillies’ pitcher, Pat Combs, hit Gooden on the knee, and the Mets ace charged the mound. The benches cleared and Cook, one of the first to join the fray, was thrown out of the game. During the brawl, he was thrown to the ground by umpire Joe West.7
With the Phillies out of contention in September, Cook was traded on September 13 to the Dodgers for catcher Darrin Fletcher. The Dodgers wanted him for the stretch run. In 42 appearances with the Phillies, he had gone 8-3 with a 3.56 ERA. On September 22 Cook made his first start and won his only game with the Dodgers, beating the Giants 6-3. It kept the Dodgers within four games of the division-leading Reds. However, Los Angeles was not able to close the gap and finished the season five games behind Cincinnati. Cook was 1-1 with a 7.53 ERA for the Dodgers.
After obtaining Cook, Dodgers general manager Fred Claire said, “We feel Dennis is an important addition to our pitching staff for the present and for the future. We’ve had an interest in Dennis for some time. He has advanced rapidly. The more we’ve seen of him, the more we like him.”8
But the 1991 Dodgers were stocked with pitchers and there was no room for Cook. He began the season with Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League. He went 7-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 14 games before being recalled in late June, when Jay Howell went on the DL. He pitched in 13 games with the Dodgers, all in relief, posting a 1.17 ERA in only 7⅔ innings. However, the ERA was deceiving in that he had allowed a walk or hit in all but two of his appearances. When Howell returned to the Dodgers from the DL in late July, Cook was sent to Double-A San Antonio. On August 18, he struck out 11 batters in eight innings for San Antonio, but was not involved in the decision.9 With the Missions, his record was only 1-3, but he had a 2.49 ERA in seven appearances (all starts) and returned to the Dodgers at the beginning of September. He again was consigned to the bullpen with the Dodgers, who were eliminated from the division race on the next-to-last day of the season. On the last day, Cook had his only start of the year, pitching 5⅔ innings of shutout ball as the Dodgers defeated the Giants, 2-0. The win was Cook’s only decision in the majors in 1991.
In December 1991, Cook was traded to the Cleveland Indians along with Mike Christopher for Rudy Seanez. In 1992 with the Indians, his fourth team in five major-league seasons, he went 5-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 32 games, 25 as a starter. He had begun the season as a starter, but through May 17, his record was only 1-4 with an ERA of 5.91. He then spent more than a month in the bullpen before returning to the rotation with better results. In 17 games from June 28 through October 1, he was 4-2 with an ERA of 3.20. The Indians finished the season in fourth place.
In 1993 Cook got into 25 games, six as a starter, as the Indians duplicated their 76-86 record of the prior season, finishing in sixth place. He started the season in the bullpen before starting six games between May 20 and June 17. He was ineffective during this stretch, going 1-3 with a 7.43 ERA, on a staff where there were few answers. Over the course of the season, Cleveland used 26 pitchers, 18 of them starters. Cook’s season with the Indians, in which he went 5-5 with a 5.67 ERA, ended in July when he was sent to Charlotte in the International League.
The Indians let Cook go after the 1993 season and he signed with the Chicago White Sox. He pitched exclusively in relief in 1994 and had a 3-1 record with a 3.55 ERA. His season ended on August 10. At the end of the season, he was put on waivers by the White Sox and reclaimed by the Indians.
Cook’s second tour with the Indians was relatively short. In mid-June of 1995, he was traded to the Texas Rangers for minor leaguer Guillermo Mercedes after having no decisions in 11 appearances with Cleveland. With the Rangers, he was 0-2 with two saves in 35 games.
In 1996 Cook went to the postseason for the first time. He was 5-2 with the Rangers and led the team with 60 appearances. In the best-of-five Division Series loss to the Yankees, Cook pitched in Games Two and Four. In the fourth game, Texas took an early 4-0 lead. New York rallied for three runs in the fourth inning. Cook came out of the bullpen with two out and runners on the corners and retired Wade Boggs to get out of the jam. He left the game at that point and looked on as the Yankees rallied to defeat Texas and move on to the League Championship Series.
Cook was once again a free agent after the 1996 season and signed with the Florida Marlins, where he was the set-up man for closer Robb Nen. Back in the National League Cook had the opportunity to show off his talents as a hitter. He had in four seasons (1988-1991) batted .250 (24-for-96) with a home run in 1990 when his overall average was .306. As a reliever, he did not have much of an opportunity to bat, but was perfect in his first four plate appearances, including his second career homer, on July 25. Against the Cardinals, he hit for himself after pitching a perfect eighth inning. He came out of the game after the homer and was credited with a hold as the Marlins won, 5-4.
On August 1 at Miami, Cook pinch-hit in the 12th inning against Atlanta. The score was tied, 2-2. There was one out and the winning run was on third base. This was his fourth at-bat and first pinch-hitting appearance of the season. His single drove in Gregg Zaun with the winning run. Over the course of the season, Cook batted .556 (5-for-9). As a pitcher, in 59 appearances, he was 1-2 with a 3.90 ERA. He struck out 63 batters in 62⅓ innings and was credited with 13 holds. His final hold, on September 23, came in a victory that secured a wild-card berth for the Marlins.
Cook starred in the Division Series against the Giants. In Game One, at Miami, he entered a 1-1 tie in the top of the eighth inning. He pitched two perfect innings, striking out three batters. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, Edgar Renteria singled home the winning run, and Cook had his first postseason win. In Game Three, a Marlins victory that advanced them to the National League Championship Series, he pitched a perfect eighth inning. In the NLCS he registered four outs and did not allow a hit in Florida’s 5-3 Game One win over Atlanta. He got another hold in Game Three, pitching a perfect eighth inning when Florida won 5-2. The Marlins won the NLCS in six games and faced the Indians in the World Series.
Cook pitched in three games during the World Series against the Indians and was not scored upon. In Game One, he got one out in the sixth inning, pitched a scoreless seventh, and got the first out in the eighth. The Marlins won the game, 7-4 to take the lead in the series. Game Three at Cleveland was a high-scoring affair and the score was 7-7 when Cook entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Marquis Grissom and then retired the next three batters. With Cook the pitcher of record, the Marlins scored seven runs in the ninth inning, and Nen pitched the ninth inning. The Marlins won the game 14-11 and led the Series two games to one. Cook entered Game Seven in the seventh inning and retired the side in order. However, the Indians, his former team, had a two-run lead. The Marlins tied the game in the ninth, and when Renteria singled home Craig Counsell in the 11th inning, the Marlins had their first World Series championship and Dennis Cook had his first World Series ring.
The Marlins wasted no time in breaking up their team after the World Series. Cook was traded to the New York Mets and spent the better part of the next four seasons at Shea Stadium. Upon his arrival in New York, Buster Olney of the New York Times informed his readers that Cook “is all Texan from his thick prairie drawl to his pickup truck. His dog is called Stonewall Jackson, named for the Confederate general.”10 When he reported to spring training, he did it as a new father, three times over. On February 26, just before he reported, his wife, Tammy, had given birth to triplets. “It’s been easy for me,” he said. “My wife’s doing all the work. But she’s having fun. Everybody’s eating. Everybody’s healthy. Doesn’t seem to have gotten to her yet.”11 He and Tammy, the former Tamara Paige Fitzsimmons, who studied physical therapy at the University of Texas, had been married in early 1992.
As the left-handed set-up man for closer John Franco, Cook was an iron man in the Mets bullpen. He led the team in appearances with 73 in 1998 and led the staff with a 2.38 ERA. On May 22 against the Brewers, he picked off two runners, back to back, in the eighth inning. He led all relievers in wins with eight (against four losses), and had one save. The Mets had a chance for the NL wild card but lost their last five games. After the season, the Mets signed Cook to a three-year contract worth, overall, $6.6 million.
In 1999 Cook was, outside of closer John Franco, the most reliable left arm in the Mets bullpen, and had a 10-5 record. He had four wins and a hold in his first nine April appearances, and teammates were joking about him perhaps having 20 wins in relief. Catcher Mike Piazza said, “For his sake, I do (hope so), But for our starters’ sake, I don’t.”12 The Mets once again were in a great position to make it to the postseason, and once again it appeared that they would fall short. On September 19, they were one game out of the division lead and had a stranglehold on the wild card. They proceeded to lose seven straight games. The last of those losses, 9-3 to Atlanta, was on September 28. Cook was the sixth of eight pitchers used by manager Bobby Valentine. He entered the game at Shea Stadium with the Mets trailing 5-1 in the eighth inning. With one out, he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. The frustration level was high, and after the walk, Cook got into a heated exchange with home-plate umpire Alfonzo Marquez. As David Waldstein remarked in the New York Post, the frustration was “all right there on the face of the raging reliever, who spit fire and venom in the face of home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, as if the man in blue were responsible for all of the Mets’ losses (during the streak).”13
Cook was ejected from the game and later was fined $2,500 and suspended for one game by the National League. But if his implicit goal was, as Waldstein noted, “screaming at his teammates to wake up and show some fight,” he succeeded.14 The Mets got back on course, winning four of their last five games to tie Cincinnati for the wild-card slot. In a one-game playoff, they defeated the Reds, 5-0. The Mets went to the postseason as the National League wild card and faced the Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series. Cook made his presence felt in Game One. He entered the game in the sixth inning in relief of Masato Yoshii. The Mets lead in the game had been erased on a two-run homer by Luis Gonzalez. Cook registered the last two outs of the sixth inning and kept the Diamondbacks at bay in a scoreless seventh. He left the game after the seventh inning with the score tied and was a happy spectator when Edgardo Alfonzo’s ninth-inning grand slam gave the Mets an 8-4 win. Cook did not appear again in the best-of-five series as the Mets won in four games to advance to the National League Championship Series against Atlanta. Cook pitched in three games in the NLCS. Although he was not charged with any runs, he did allow two inherited runners to score when Atlanta clinched the series in Game Six.
In 2000 the Mets returned to the postseason. Cook was no longer the lefty set-up man in the bullpen. That role was filled by John Franco when Armando Benitez captured the closer role. Cook was coming off an inconsistent 2000 season during which his 6-3 record was illusionary. He blew six saves and had an ERA of 5.34. He pitched in two games against the Giants in the NLDS, extending his postseason streak of scoreless appearances to 15, as the Mets won the best-of-five series in four games. In the NLCS against the Cardinals, Cook pitched only once, pitching a scoreless the eighth inning in the Mets’ 8-2 loss in Game Three. The Mets won the best-of-seven series in five games and advanced to the World Series against the Yankees. Cook appeared in three games during the Series, won in five games by the Yankees. It was Cook’s last appearance in the postseason. His career postseason résumé was 19 appearances, a 2-0 won-lost record, and a 0.00 ERA in 16⅓ innings.
During the offseason, the Mets were looking to unload the 38-year-old Cook, but there were no takers. On June 11, 2001, Cook was in the final season of his contract with the Mets. The team was off that day and Cook and six of his teammates had been invited to the White House to meet with President George W. Bush. During the 25-minute visit, Bush and Cook, both Texans, discussed places to fish in their home state.15 On July 27 Cook and fellow pitcher Turk Wendell were sent to Philadelphia for Bruce Chen and Adam Walker, both of whom at the time were in the minor leagues. During his time with the Mets, Cook pitched in 255 games, won 25 games and lost 13, posted a 3.86 ERA and earned 6 saves.
When Cook returned to Philadelphia in 2001, there were no faces on the roster from the team he had left in 1990. He got into 19 games with the Phillies in the remaining months of 2001, posting no decisions. When he joined them, the Phillies were two games behind in the race for the NL wild card, but they went 29-30 in their last 59 games and did not make it to the postseason.
After the season, Cook was a free agent and signed with the Angels. He pitched in 37 games with the wild-card Angels but was not on the postseason roster. He was on the disabled list from July 6 through September 6 with a partially torn labrum.16 After two months of rest, he made four appearances in September, but with the emergence of young reliever Francisco Rodriguez and the continued presence of Troy Percival leading the bullpen corps, Cook was left off the list.
Cook’s major-league career was over after 15 seasons. He had played for nine teams (with multiple stops at Cleveland and Philadelphia). In 665 appearances, he posted a 64-46 record with a 3.91 ERA. Primarily a set-up man in the bullpen, he had saved nine games and in his early days as a starter had thrown six complete games, three of which were shutouts. His hitting prowess set him apart during his time in the National League. He batted .264 (29-for-110) with 9 RBIs.
Cook coached for the Swedish national team in the 2009 World Cup and managed them in the European Championships in 2010 (fifth place), 2012 (sixth place), and 2014 (11th place). He was a pitching consultant for the German team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic Qualifier held in Mexico City in March 2016.
As of 2018, Cook and his family lived outside of Austin, Texas. Since his retirement from big-league pitching, Cook has coached at many levels. In 2003, he coached under Tom Holliday at the University of Texas. In addition to coaching in Europe, he coached for three seasons at Lake Travis High School, near his home, when his sons were on the team. In 2018 he was named pitching coach for the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League, a summer league for top college talent. One of his players was his son Asher, who after high school pitched at Navarro Junior College and moved on to Texas Christian University. Son Dawson played club baseball at the University of Mississippi.
This biography was published in “1995 Cleveland Indians: The Sleeping Giant Awakes” (SABR, 2019), edited by Joseph Wancho.
In addition to the sources shown in the notes, the author used Ancestry.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and Dennis Cook’s file at the National Hall of Fame and Museum Library.
1 Mark Whicker, “Cook Known for Playing with Lot of Fire,” Orange County (California) Register, March 6, 1991: D1, D8.
2 “Longhorns Prevail in 10th, Reach College World Series,” Miami Herald, May 28, 1984: 5D.
3 Yale Youngblood, “Szeleky Kills Caps,” Times (Shreveport, Louisiana), May10, 1987: 3C.
4 Nick Peters, “Complicating the Plans,” The Sporting News, September26, 1988: 22.
6 Paul Hagen, “Cook Curious About Coaching in Retirement,” MLB.com, July 19, 2017.
7 April Alfarano (United Press International), “Phils, Mets in Brawl, Bryan (Ohio) Times, August 10, 1990: 13.
8 “Will Cook Provide Missing Ingredient?” The Sporting News, September 24, 1990: 13.
9 Tom Griffin, “Missions Final: Angels’ Ninth Buries Missions, 12-3, San Antonio Express-News, August 19, 1991: 1B.
10 Buster Olney, “Mets Get Cook and Still Seek Benes,” New York Times, December 19, 1997: S4.
11 Charle Nobles, “Mets Newest Reliever Is Toughest on Lefties,” New York Times, March 9, 1998: S3.
12 Jason Diamos, “Mets Walk on the Padres’ Wild Side,” New York Times, April 30, 1999: S1.
13 David Waldstein, “Cook Boils Over – Mets’ Frustration Erupts as Reliever Goes After Umpire,” New York Post, September 30, 1999.
15 Tyler Kepner, “Several Mets Meet Bush,” New York Times, June 12, 2001: S6.
16 The Sporting News, September 23, 2002: 53.