GLENDALE, Ariz — For a pitcher who won a total of one major league baseball game in his professional career, Don Cooper has some nerve being one of the best pitching coaches in the game.
"It's better than winning none," said Cooper, the New York native who grew up a die-hard Mets fan. His father, Wes, loved the Yankees.
What team did Cooper beat?
"The Yankees. Struck out Reggie Jackson to end the game. Looking."
Cooper's pitching career ended with 1 win and 6 losses, although he'll probably tell you that the biggest loss was that of his dad, who passed away before he made it to the big leagues.
"The only thing I regret was my dad wasn't alive to see it," he said.
Cooper never saw himself as a pitching coach. He thought he'd pitch for 8-10 years, retire, and then.....
"Do the Six O'Clock News."
That's right. Once upon a time, Don Cooper wanted to be a sports anchor. Coat, tie, microphone and all. Imagine the possibilities—and the bloopers.
Instead, he hooked on with the White Sox as a minor league pitching coach in 1988. After stops in South Bend, Sarasota, Birmingham and Nashville, he made it back to the major leagues as the White Sox pitching coach in 2002.
How long ago was 2002? The White Sox starting rotation that season featured a young Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland, followed by Dan Wright, Gary Glover and Todd Richie. They also had relievers Rocky Biddle, Matt Ginter, Mike Porzio, Antonio Osuna, Keith Foulke, Kelly Wunsch, Jon Rauch and Lorenzo Barcelo.
The point is, pitchers come and go. So do pitching coaches.
"Heck man I remember my first year as a coach," Cooper recalled. "I remember saying, 'Please let me have another year. Please let me have another year. I've outlasted the shelf life of coaches."
Instead of going stale, Cooper's message has remained fresh. He's had three different managers and four hitting coaches with the White Sox.
But he also knows that at some point his time will be up, although he's hoping it's not anytime soon.
"I don't want this to end," Cooper said. "Obviously some day it has to, but I'm telling you right now, if and when that does happen—for one or two reasons it's going to happen—one that I'm dead and I die, or two that they choose to make a change, and that will be sad day. Either one of those events for me. If and when the Chicago White Sox decide that I'm not the guy anymore, I could lie and yeah, I will move on probably but that will be a heck of tough day. I don't like thinking about it."
Cooper opened up about his career in the latest edition of "Inside Look," which airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.
As the second-longest tenured pitching coach in the American League (only the Twins Rick Anderson is ahead of him—by 3.5 months), Cooper has been a "pitching whisperer," helping to turn around careers (Matt Thornton and Gavin Floyd), while working behind the scenes for some of the greatest pitching performances in Chicago sports history (see Mark Buehrle, Philip Humber and the 2005 ALCS).
"I don't look at [myself] as a top pitching coach. I don't compare myself to anybody," Cooper said. "My wife and myself and my family we call this Fantasy Land. This is the goose that laid the golden egg. It's like, it's too good to be true. That I am blessed enough to be able to say that I'm the Chicago White Sox pitching coach, I'm awful proud of that. I want to do it until I physically can't do it anymore. As far as I'm concerned as long as I can see and talk, I can do this job."
Every season brings a new set of challenges. This year, Cooper and the White Sox need to fill two spots in the rotation as well as find a closer. Nobody seems to be panicking. They've been down this road before, even in 2005 when they won it all.
"If anybody tells you before that year that we were going to be world champions is lying. Nobody knew," Cooper said. "A lot of things have to come together and go right. Those things did."
Now with an influx of youngsters, the White Sox appear to be at least a year or two away from contending. But those are just words. Cooper and the White Sox live by results. It's also spring training, where teams are filled with one common ingredient:
It's there in Glendale and they'll be bringing it back to Chicago.
"I look at this as a big job. I want to do well. I want to win championships," Cooper said. "I'm hoping that there's more blessings in store."