Jimmy Cooney (Baseball-Reference)

Jimmy Cooney

This article was written by Ray Birch

Jimmy Cooney (Baseball-Reference)James Joseph Cooney from Cranston, Rhode Island, played in three seasons for two teams in the National League. He was with the Chicago Colts during 1890, 1891, and the first part of 1892; he then joined the Washington Senators for the remainder of 1892. Cooney played shortstop in the majors but was originally a catcher and played all over the diamond in the minors. He was capable at bat and in the field, ran and threw well, and showed great team spirit and toughness.

From 1884 through 1889, Cooney was a member of various minor-league teams including Bridgeport (Connecticut) of the Southern New England/Eastern League, Haverhill (Massachusetts) of the New England League, Oshkosh (Wisconsin) of the Northwestern League, and Omaha (Nebraska) of the Western League. After the conclusion of his major-league career in 1892, he played for minor-league teams in Providence (Rhode Island) of the Eastern League and Bristol of the Connecticut State League.

Cooney was the father of four children, two of whom also made it to the major leagues: James and John. Sad to relate, Cooney passed away in 1903 at the age of 37 before being able to see either of them play in the major leagues.

Cooney was familiarly known as Jimmy, although he also acquired the nickname of “Snapper” during his career.1 He was born on July 9, 1865, to John and Bridget Cooney, who had emigrated from Ireland. The 1870 United States Census reports that John worked at the Cranston Print Works in Cranston while Bridget’s occupation was “keeping house.”2 John and Bridget also were the parents of Thomas (1857) and John (1858), born in England. After James came Mary (1867), Edward (1869), Elizabeth (1872), Michael (1873), and Francis (1874), all born in Cranston. Despite their youth, both Thomas and John also worked at the Cranston Print Works with their father as bleachers, whose job was to refine paper pulp during the printing process.

Jimmy Cooney began playing baseball “at an early age and attracted attention by playing on local teams.”3 The May 24, 1884, edition of the Providence Evening Bulletin carried a report about the formation of a new state association for baseball clubs.4 Named the Rhode Island State League, this association would consist of the Bristols, Dexters, Perrys, Lonsdales, River Points, Rumfords, and the Pawtuckets, for whom Cooney played. Their games mostly played at the Rocky Point field in Warwick and Messer Street Grounds in Providence. On June 21, 1884, the Providence Journal reported a box score and summary from a game played between the Rumfords and the Pawtuckets which mentioned some “sharp fielding” by 19-year-old catcher James Cooney. In addition to his Rhode Island State League experience with the Pawtuckets, he also played with the Holyoke team of the Massachusetts State Association until that league disbanded on August 15, 1884. He then returned to the Rhode Island State League for a short stint with the River Points playing alongside future Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy of Cranston.5

At the start of the 1885 season, Cooney reported to training camp with the Bridgeport Giants of the Southern New England League (SNEL). He and teammate Ed Conley were described in the April 15, 1885 edition of Sporting Life as a “crack battery.”6 Before the SNEL disbanded in June, Cooney appeared in 40 games with the Giants: 31 at catcher, four in center field, one in right field and four at shortstop; he batted .193 in 187 at-bats. For the record, Conley, the other half of the “crack battery,” won 17 and lost 12 with Bridgeport while it was in the SNEL. In its April 22, 1885, edition, Sporting Life described Cooney’s performance in an exhibition game against Yale as “magnificent catching.” In its May 6, 1885, issue, it noted that Cooney “is the quickest and finest catcher ever seen here, and is a favorite of the Bridgeporters.”7

After the SNEL League disbanded that June, two of its teams, Waterbury and Bridgeport, were absorbed into the Eastern League. While in Bridgeport, the so-called “injury bug” caught up to Cooney in a big way. In June, he contracted malaria. After his recovery, Cooney returned to the lineup, but his injury problems continued. In July, he was hit by a pitched ball which fractured the outside bone of his right forearm, disabling him for about four weeks.8 During his recovery from the fractured arm, a member of the Board of Directors of the Bridgeport team decided, with no good reason, to release the disabled player. The following day he changed his mind and reinstated Cooney.9

Cooney returned to the lineup before the end of the 1885 season as a right fielder in eight games and a catcher for three games, batting only .150 in 11 games. His teammate Conley also slumped with the change of leagues, finishing with only six wins against 10 losses in 17 starts.

Although it seemed as though Cooney would be reserved by Bridgeport for the 1886 season, he was signed by Haverhill of the New England League for 1886. His recovery from the arm fracture complete, Cooney made the majority of his starts as a catcher, with a few more at second, third, shortstop, and left field.

Frank Selee, one of three managers at Haverhill in 1886, moved to Oshkosh of the Northwestern League for the 1887 season and quickly signed Cooney to catch for him there.10 Selee made him the captain of the team in June 1887 and for the rest of the season, Jimmy made his mark as a versatile utility player, playing six positions in just 49 games, with the bulk of them at shortstop. The season ended with Oshkosh winning the Northwestern League championship. A report in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern gave Cooney this evaluation:

“He is not only good behind the bat, but is a first-class general player and can hold down any of the bases or play a fielding position in good shape.”

Cooney, though, had only that season to show Oshkosh fans his diverse skills – he followed Selee to the Western Association’s Omaha Omahogs/Lambs in 1888. Playing in 109 games, he batted .258 in 403 at-bats and stole 45 bases. Once again, Sporting Life sang Cooney’s praises in its August 8, 1888, edition, stating that “he is a magnificent catcher, a first-class all-round fielder and has developed into a more than average batter.” Cooney showed his versatility by playing not only behind the plate but also in the infield and the outfield.

The Omaha team reserved Cooney’s contract for the 1889 season and was rewarded when Cooney played in 106 games, batting .299 and mostly playing in center field and at catcher. The May 22, 1889 edition of Sporting Life reported that “Cooney’s stick work was great. He is the surest hitter on the team.” At season’s end, though, Omaha sold Cooney to the Chicago Colts of the National League for $3,200.

With the Colts, Cooney was slated to play shortstop on a club led by player/manager Cap Anson, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1939. During spring training, Anson assessed his acquisition, stating “Cooney is a prize; he is a great fielder, a good batter and speedy on the bases.11 He played 135 games, all but one of them at shortstop, compiling a .935 fielding percentage and batting .272 with 45 stolen bases. The New York Herald reported that “he is a remarkable player, and what is more to the point, he is a grand stand favorite.”

Aside from his solid baseball skills, Cooney also contributed positively to team morale. In its April 12, 1890, edition, Sporting Life observed, “Cooney is the clown of Anson’s team and makes more fun for the boys. … Cooney is nothing if not original, and is never done guying making fun of] Anson and Burns in a quiet way.”

Despite being pursued by the Boston entry in the rival Players League during the offseason, Cooney signed with the Colts for 1891 for $2,500. Wedding bells rang for the 25-year-old Cooney and Ella Dunham (31) when they were married in June 1891.12 According to the 1870 US Census, the Dunham family had lived in Providence’s Second Ward. Ella’s father Bernard was a policeman while her mother Anna kept house.

During the 1891 season, Cooney had his share of injuries and sickness, including an incident where “his nose bled almost incessantly and he suffered with pains through the stomach.”13 He also drew the ire of first baseman Anson for making low throws. Although his skills at shortstop were still above average, his batting average went down to .245 and his stolen base total slipped to 21. The Colts signed Cooney for the 1892 season, but rumors persisted that he had worn out his welcome in Chicago and that he was a candidate to be released. After spending part of his offseason working as a barber in his brother’s shop in Rhode Island, Cooney started the season with Chicago, but struggled at the plate, as well as in the field. In addition, his wife took ill and he had to leave the club for a while in May.14 Sporting Life reported that Cooney was in “bad shape” and that “Anson was looking for a new shortstop.”15

Upon Cooney’s return to the Colts in July 1892, he went to the bench. His final year in Chicago was a disappointment: he hit .172 in 65 games while his fielding percentage dipped to .912 with 30 errors. In mid-July 1892, Cooney was acquired by the Washington Senators of the National League after being released by the Colts.

In Washington, the general feeling was that Cooney still had very good fielding skills and that he might be revitalized by a change in scenery. However, he did not report to Washington immediately, claiming that he was not feeling well.16 Eventually, Cooney joined the team, but started slowly, still showing signs of illness. After six games in which he made four errors and batted only .160, he was released by the Senators at the beginning of August.

Cooney returned to Providence to help his wife recuperate, but he also played for the Providence Grays of the Eastern League. He did well for the Grays for the remainder of the 1892 season, batting .252 in 33 games, while regaining his fluid fielding style.17

Cooney was reserved by the newly renamed Providence Clamdiggers for the 1893 season and signed a contract with the team in mid-April. The Providence Evening Bulletin reported that he was “much lighter than last year and is in race horse form.”18 Despite his wife’s illness, which left her disabled, he played in 86 games, batting .237 and establishing himself as the best fielding shortstop in the Eastern League.19

In 1894 Cooney followed that performance by playing in 98 games with the Clamdiggers, raising his batting average to .282 while impressing manager Billy Murray, who said that he “would rather have Cub] Stricker and Cooney than any men in the Eastern League.” As a result of his fine play during a season in which the Clamdiggers won the Eastern League championship, reports surfaced that Anson was interested in re-signing him for the Chicago Colts. But a transaction for Cooney never happened.

During the season, the veteran endured a few nagging injuries. He broke a finger at the first joint in late July but returned within a few days and continued his consistent hitting.20 Shortly after his return in August, he was hit in the “crazy bone,” causing him considerable pain and loss of strength in his elbow joint. Again, the resilient Cooney returned after a short rest, playing with a “big mitt on his injured hand” that allowed him to smother balls hit to him, recover, and throw out runners.21

Cooney remained with Providence, which reverted to the nickname Grays, and played shortstop in 1895. According to the Providence Evening Bulletin, he appeared to be “in good condition” and was among the first to return a signed contract. Throughout the season, Cooney showed remarkable skill at fielding his shortstop position, while also showing an uncanny ability to be in position on the field to back up his fellow fielders. On July 9, the newspaper reported that Cooney “is playing the game of his life” and was again attracting attention from big league teams. But again, Cooney declined the opportunity to move up.

Instead, he re-signed with Providence for the 1896 season, and he continued to dazzle in the field. The Grays battled for the Eastern League pennant into September, when Cooney was injured while trying to catch a thrown ball. This injury, a compound fracture of the bones of the right forefinger at the second joint, sidelined him at a critical juncture of the pennant race. After declaring that the bones were not broken, Cooney soaked the finger in hot water to reduce the swelling and was able to join the team on their road trip to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.22 Cooney then played in the next game, accepting five chances without an error, with his determination and toughness on full display.

After helping Providence win the Eastern League championship in 1896, Cooney turned his attention in the winter months to a different sport which was gaining in popularity in the United States. – roller polo. Manager Billy Murray of the Grays named him as an assistant with his team that participated in league games at Infantry Hall in Providence.23 Later in the season, Cooney organized his own team called the Cranstons, which played in the amateur division of the league.24

After being named captain of the Grays in the offseason, Cooney started the 1897 season with renewed purpose. An article in the Providence Evening Bulletin mentioned that “he covers lots of ground and appears to better advantage with the stick than he did last season.” Among Cooney’s most admirable qualities as a player were his ability to motivate his teammates with “spirited coaching,” setting a standard for quality play on the diamond, and setting a good example for the younger players on the team. Despite finishing 13 games over .500, the Grays finished in fourth place in the Eastern League behind Syracuse.

Tragedy struck the family in April 1898 when William, the youngest son of Jimmy and Ella Cooney, died at the age of one year, 10 months. Despite his grief, Cooney returned to the Providence lineup and batted .240 in 100 games. Again, he suffered a serious injury during the season, dislocating his kneecap – but, in typical Cooney fashion, it was put back into place immediately on the field and he stayed in the game.

But Father Time began to catch up to Cooney during the 1899 season while he was a member of the Clamdiggers/Grays. He became the victim of the age-old “infusion of new blood” decision by the management of the team that led to his release from the team in August.

Cooney resurfaced with the Bristol Bellmakers of the Connecticut State League the following year, first becoming the player-manager of the team in May and then assuming the sole ownership of the Bellmakers in July while continuing as player-manager. The following two seasons, Cooney coached local squads in Rhode Island, the Thorntons in 1902 and Olneyville in 1903.

On July 1, 1903, Jimmy Cooney unexpectedly passed away from pneumonia at his home in Cranston at the age of 37. He left a widow and four children. In his obituary in the Providence Evening Bulletin of July 2, 1903, the following tribute was published:

“Jimmy Cooney was one of the most graceful infielders in the history in the history of the game and was especially skillful in the timing and handling of grounders. He was an accurate and reliable thrower. He enjoyed the distinction of being one of the first players to demonstrate the possibilities of the sacrifice hit. In disposition he was sociable to a degree which won him friends wherever he went.”

Jimmy Cooney was a man committed to the game of baseball. He had a keen sense of how the game of baseball should be played, hard-nosed and fairly. He excelled as a player, coach, and manager and used his knowledge of the game to help young players improve their skills. He was able to have fun with his fellow players in the dugout and gain the respect of his opponents. He had his share of triumphs, and his resilient spirit helped him to weather the sorrows of life, both physical and emotional. Whether Jimmy Cooney deserved a longer life than he had will never be known. But it can be said that the life he actually had was a full and productive one.



This story was edited by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.



In addition to the sources shown in the notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com.



1 “On the Ball Field,” Omaha Bee, September 20, 1896: 18.

2 United States Federal Census, 1870.

3 “James J. Cooney, Ball Player, Is Dead” Providence Evening Bulletin, July 2, 1903: 6.

4 “Formation of a State Base Ball Association” Providence Evening Bulletin, May 24, 1884.

5 “James J. Cooney, Ball Player, Is Dead,” Providence Evening Bulletin, July 2, 1903.

6 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, April 15, 1885: 7.

7 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, May 6, 1885: 7.

8 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, August 19, 1885: 5.

9 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, September 23, 1885: 5.

10 “From The Hub,” Sporting Life, November 24, 1886: 3.

11 “Anson Speaks of His Colts,” Sporting Life, March 19,1890: 6.

12 “News, Gossip and Comment,” Sporting Life, June 20, 1891: 2.

13 “Chicago Gleanings,” Sporting Life, May 30, 1891: 3.

14 “Late Sporting News,” Chicago Daily News, May 27, 1892: 1.

15 “Editorial Views, News, Comment,” Sporting Life, June 25, 1892: 2.

16 “Washington Whispers,” Sporting Life, July 23, 1892: 15.

17 “Providence Pointers,” Sporting Life, September 17, 1892: 7.

18 “Baseball Notes,” Providence Evening Bulletin, April 21, 1893: 2.

19 “Editorial Views, News, Comment,” Sporting Life, August 12, 1893: 2.

20 “Baseball Briefs,” Providence Evening Bulletin, July 31, 1894: 3.

21 “Baseball Briefs,” Providence Evening Bulletin, August 30, 1894: 2.

22 “A Great Finish,” Providence Evening Bulletin, September 8, 1896: 2.

23 “In Shoots,” Boston Herald, October 25, 1896: 32.

24 “Polo Pointers,” Providence Evening Bulletin, February 4, 1897: 4.

Full Name

James Joseph Cooney


July 9, 1865 at Cranston, RI (USA)


July 1, 1903 at Cranston, RI (USA)

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