The American League leader in runs batted in is hitting .361. Since Lou Gehrig in 1934, no American Leaguer--not DiMaggio, Williams or Carew--has hit over .360 and won the RBI crown in the same year.
But in the summer of the great.400 chase, Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper goes unnoticed. While George Brett flirts with the magic mark, Cooper flirts with anonymity, quietly amassing statistics which place him alongside Brett as the league's most consistent hitter.
"It's not every day a guy has a chance to hit .400," Cooper says. "He's having a good year, and I'm having a good year, but I'm not really upset he's getting the coverage. That's something that comes along every 30, 40 years."
Neither Cooper nor Brett will ever win a home run title. Both play in small, midwestern markets. But Brett's Royals, sporting baseball's best record, are coasting toward the post-season television exposure of the A.L. Championship Series. The Brewers, picked by many to win their division, have flopped; they stand in fifth place, 13 1/2 games behind.
"This year," Cooper says, "has been something of a disappointment. We had hoped to be in the race at this point, and we're not." Fifth-place teams don't get much media exposure, and the Brewers don't even get the chance to play spoiler. They have finished their season series with division rivals Baltimore, Boston and New York, and are playing out the string against Seattle, Minnesota, California and Oakland; not games the networks are itching to televise.
When Cooper has received exposure in the past, he has often been over-shadowed. Traded away from first-magnitude stars Lynn, Rice and Yaz in Boston, his first-base play in Milwaukee has not received the all-star consideration it has merited because of California's Carew.
The articulate, nine-year veteran who boasts a .296 lifetime average, entered 1980 with just one all-star appearance and no at-bats.
Now, however, Cooper must be considered the A.L.'s premier first-sacker. A patient hitter who strives for continual improvement, he looked at his .308 batting average, 24 home runs and 106 RBIs of last year and wasn't satisfied. By swinging more selectively and hitting to all fields, he hoped to improve on those numbers. And he has.
"I think the key is really realizing what you're capable of doing and then going out and doing it," he says. "I'm a spray hitter, I hit to all fields with power, and this year I haven't really tried to hit the ball out. I'm making good contact and not striking out too much."
Just as Carew and Brett had to wait for recognition, Cooper is paying the price for playing in the midwest. But he's sure the recognition will come and he'd like it to come in Milwaukee.
"I'd like to think my future is here," he says. "Baseball's a funny game, one you're here and the next you're there. But I hope my future is in Milwaukee."
In any other year, Cecil Cooper would be a household name. But despite being the right man at the wrong time, Cooper is undaunted by the inattention. "The coverage will come," he says. "It's been picking up in the past two weeks, and it's going to get better."
And he's right. Milwaukee's no media market, but if Cecil Cooper can hit .360, it can only get better.