This article was written by Thomas Ayers
Eugene “Gene” Cocreham, the son of a small-town Texas doctor, pursued a professional baseball career in his early 20s and eventually spent part of three seasons pitching in the big leagues. All but two of his 17 big-league appearances came in 1914 for the World Series champion Boston Braves. After his baseball career ended, Cocreham spent a year coaching college baseball and then retired to a quiet life in Texas as an orchard manager and farmer.
Cocreham was born on November 11, 1884, to Thomas Edward Cocreham and his wife, Lola, in Luling, a small town near Austin, Texas. Thomas and Lola, who were 35 and 22 years old respectively when he was born, had been married for six years and Eugene was their first child. Thomas was a native of Arkansas and his wife had been born and raised in Texas. Eugene’s paternal grandparents were from Kentucky and his maternal grandparents were Mississippians. Eugene spent his entire childhood in the same house, as in 1910 it was noted that the Cocrehams had lived in that location for 31 years.1
Gene, as he was usually known, was the Cocrehams’ only child for five years, then was followed by four brothers and three sisters.
Luling was a town of under 1,500 residents at the turn of the century.2 Thomas Cocrehan was a doctor and the proprietor of the town’s drugstore, while Lola does not appear to have worked outside the home; it is likely she spent her time with the demanding challenge of raising Gene and his siblings.3 In 1910 Gene was working as a salesman at the town’s furniture store, while also pursuing a semiprofessional baseball career. His two eldest brothers both worked at the town’s general store, Roland as a salesman and Lewis as the store’s bookkeeper.4 Given Thomas’s position at the drugstore and these connections to many of the small town’s central retail stores, it is probable the Cocrehams were one of the town’s most prominent families.
Gene took to baseball and was known as a standout outfielder for the local team in his teens. Despite these accolades, it appears he only began playing semipro baseball in 1909, at the age of 24, which may be connected to other opportunities available to him. In the end, it’s unclear why the 6-foot-3, 187-pound Texan did not pursue baseball more seriously earlier in his life.
Gene began playing semipro baseball as a shortstop in nearby Flatonia, Texas. With his tall frame, he was encouraged to begin pitching late during that 1909 season and did so to great success.5 In 1910 he pitched for a semipro team in Brownsville, a bigger town on the northern bank of the Rio Grande.6
Cocreham started his career in Organized Baseball in 1911 with the Beeville Orange Growers of the Class D Southwest Texas League. In nine games for the Orange Growers, the 26-year-old Cocreham allowed 45 hits and 18 walks in 59 innings. The right-hander finished the season in the Class B Texas League for the Galveston Sand Crabs and the San Antonio Bronchos. Cocreham went only 1-8 in his first exposure to the Texas League, surrendering 61 hits and 17 walks in 58 innings. He didn’t return to the Texas League again for five years.
In 1912 Cocreham started the season with the Manhattan Elks of the Class D Central Kansas League, finishing 10-5 in 15 games. In the middle of the season he moved within the state to the Topeka Jayhawks of the Class A Western League. There was an impressive collection of talent on the 1912 Jayhawks and eight members of the team, Al Bashang, Josh Billings, George Cochran, Joe McDonald, Ross Reynolds, Joe Rickert, Harley “Cy the Third” Young, and Cocreham, ultimately played in the major leagues. Cocreham hurled 174 innings, allowing 154 hits and 81 bases on balls. He posted a record of 7-13 in 29 games for Topeka and, for Manhattan and Topeka combined, he finished with a 17-18 record.
Cocreham pitched a career-high 305? innings in 1913, 297 of them in the Western League for the Jayhawks. Cocreham was one of the linchpins of the staff, along with Reynolds and William Fullerton. All three threw over 250 innings for the Jayhawks and none of the club’s other hurlers reached 100. Gene finished with a 3.61 ERA, second lowest on the club behind Reynolds, and led the team by pitching in 44 games.
The Texan was sold to Boston by Topeka on July 5, but it was agreed that he would remain with Topeka until October 1.7 However, dealing with a potential shortage of pitchers, Boston was insistent that Cocreham join the team before the end of the year and on September 10, 1913, he left Topeka to report for duty with Boston.8
The 28-year-old Cocreham made his major-league debut when he started the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies at the Baker Bowl on September 25. The Braves lost the game 7-6 and Cocreham gave up all seven runs in 8? innings. He surrendered 13 hits and four walks, and hit a batter, while striking out three. It may not have been the debut he was hoping for, but Cocreham had reached the major leagues in less than three years after beginning his career in Organized Baseball. It was his only game with Boston in 1913.
All but two of Cocreham’s big-league appearances came in 1914, when he worked primarily out of the bullpen for the Braves while serving as a spot starter in three games, one of which was a complete game. His three starts came on June 2, September 5, and September 9. Like his previous major-league start, his first start in 1914 came in the second game of a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Robins, which the Braves lost, 4-3. The second came on September 5 against the Phillies in the final game of a 22-game road trip that had begun on August 13. The Braves were sitting a half-game out of first place and Cocreham pitched the Braves to a 7-1 victory and a tie for first place with John McGraw’s New York Giants. Cocreham was handed a start four days later, but was defeated by the Phillies, 10-3.
Cocreham also made 12 relief appearances, finishing the game in ten of those outings. In his only year as a major-league regular, he posted a 3-4 record with a 4.84 ERA in 44? innings. He allowed 48 hits and 27 walks, while striking out 15. He finished with the sixth most appearances on the Braves. He did not pitch in the World Series.
Cocreham’s only major-league appearance in 1915 was his last. It came on April 21, 1915, in an 8-4 loss to Brooklyn with the Braves hosting the Robins at Fenway Park. Cocreham relieved starting pitcher Dick Crutcher and went 1? innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on three hits. On April 29 Boston released Cocreham and Adolfo “Dolf” Luque to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, where Cocreham pitched in 16 games.9 He was one of only six pitchers used during the season by the Maple Leafs, and finished 2-6 in 16 games, pitching 88 innings, before being released at the end of July.10
In 1916 Cocreham played for the Kansas City Blues in the American Association. He hurled 133 innings in 22 games and went 7-11. He began the 1917 season with the Blues, going 1-2 in nine games, but spent most of the season with the San Antonio Bronchos of the Class B Texas League. In 24 games for the Brochos, Cocreham went 11-12. He posted an impressive 2.23 ERA in 206 innings, the lowest of Bronchos pitcher for whom their season’s ERA is known.
Cocreham made 18 starts in the 1918 season, winning seven games and losing nine. He registered for the military draft on September 12, listing himself as a self-employed farmer. Three days after Cocreham registered for the draft, his brother Lewis was severely wounded in action near Villers-sur-Prency, France. (Lewis, a sergeant, was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry. He led a patrol in an attack on two enemy machine guns. The patrol captured one of the machine guns, but Lewis was wounded leading a patrol against the second machine gun after one patrol had already been driven off.)11
Cocreham did not pitch professionally in 1919, but he returned to San Antonio, now nicknamed the Bears, in 1920. He finished with a 5-1 record in eight starts. In the offseason he was listed as living with his brother Roland on a farm in Luling.12
In 1921 Cocreham spent time in the Texas League with both San Antonio and the Shreveport Gassers. He went 6-8 with a 5.52 ERA in his final season in Organized Baseball.
After ending his playing career, Cocreham spent the 1922 season coaching baseball at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now known as Texas A&M University) and led the Aggies to a 9-8 record. He didn’t return to coach a second season.13 Cocreham also managed clubs in Gonzales and Lockhart.14
Cocreham studied horticulture at the Agricultural and Mechanical College before returning to Luling to take a position as a manager of McKean Orchards, supervising the planting and budding of fruit trees. Toward the end of his life, he returned to being a farmer and was involved in raising broiler chickens.15
Cocreham died on December 27, 1945, in Luling of a coronary occlusion complicated by diabetes. He had been ill for five months and hospitalized for the last three months of his life. He was single at the time of his death and was survived by three of his brothers, Roland, Lewis, and Guy, and three sisters. He is buried at Luling City Cemetery.
This biography is included in “The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston’s Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions” (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.
1 US Census Bureau, 1910 US Census.
2 Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “Luling, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hjl17), Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
3 US Census Bureau, 1910 US Census and 1920 US Census.
4 US Census Bureau, 1910 US Census.
5 Sporting Life, October 17, 1914, 7.
6 Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Eugene Cocreham.
7 Sporting Life, July 5, 1913, 27.
8 Sporting Life, Sept. 20, 1913, 23.
9 “Braves Release Two Pitchers,” New York Times, April 29, 1915.
10 Sporting Life, July 31, 1915, 6.
11 Military Times, Hall of Valor, Lewis R. Cocreham (http://militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=33495).
12 US Census Bureau, 1920 US Census.
13 SABR/Baseball-Reference Encyclopedia, “Texas A&M University” (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Texas_A%26M)
14 Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Eugene Cocreham. The file lists Cocreham as having coached in Gonzales and Lockhart prior to coaching at Texas A&M, but he played through the conclusion of the 1921 season and coached Texas A&M in 1922, so it’s unclear exactly when this occurred.
15 Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Eugene Cocreham.