The Obit For Harold Cooper

Harold Cooper | 1923-2010
Baseball 'patriarch' brought Clippers, Jets to town; served 4 terms as county commissioner

By Doug Caruso
The Columbus Dispatch
Monday, October 4, 2010


Harold Cooper helped save baseball in Columbus - twice - during a life dedicated to the game.

He died at home today at age 87. His family said he had been in failing health recently.

Cooper is best known for working with fellow Franklin County Commissioners Michael Dorrian and Robert Southwick to bring the Columbus Clippers to town in 1977. They allocated the money to buy and refurbish the baseball stadium and purchased a team from Memphis, Tenn. That ended a baseball drought that had started in 1970, when the Columbus Jets moved out.

In 1984, Franklin County Stadium was renamed Cooper Stadium in his honor.

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But Cooper also had brokered the deal in 1955 that brought the Jets to Columbus. A group of Columbus businessmen hired him to oversee the purchase of a team from Ottawa that year, replacing the Columbus Red Birds, who had moved to Omaha after the 1954 season.

Cooper got his first job during the Depression as a clubhouse attendant for the Red Birds, his son, Tom Cooper, said today. "It started there, and he just loved it."

Long after those days of running gum and chewing tobacco to the Red Birds dugout, Cooper would become the president of the International League, running it from 1978 until his retirement late in 1990.

Randy Mobley is now president of the league, with offices in Dublin. He said that Cooper, who hired him in 1985, was his mentor

Recalling Cooper's gruff, direct style, Mobley said, "You would not put Harold Cooper and politically correct in the same sentence," Mobley said. "He was often surprised at how well people reacted to him. I would tell him, 'They don't agree with you, but they respect you because you don't just tell them what they want to hear.'"

Sent to negotiate a payment when a major-league team wanted to replace the International League team in Atlanta, Cooper told the major leaguers: " 'The fee is so much if your attorney stays in the room, and it's less if he leaves,' " Mobley said.

"The attorney left the room, and they got the deal done."

Columbus City Auditor Hugh Dorrian, a longtime friend and political ally, said Cooper should be remembered for more than just baseball.

"Harold was not only a baseball expert; Harold was an excellent county commissioner as an administrator of government," Dorrian said.

Cooper, a Democrat, served four terms as a commissioner. On his watch, the county built a second jail, a new courthouse and a new Municipal Court building, and developed a new landfill.

When county commissioners decided to build a baseball stadium Downtown, team leaders wanted to make sure Cooper's contributions to the city's baseball legacy weren't forgotten, said Ken Schnacke, the Clippers' president and general manager.

Huntington Park opened last year with a bronze statue of Cooper at the entrance.

"On his statue out front, we call him the patriarch of Columbus baseball and the modern-day father of Columbus baseball," Schnacke said.

That helped ease any misgivings Cooper might have had about seeing the stadium that bore his name close, his son said. He attended almost all of the daytime games in the stadium this summer and made it to at least one night game.

"He embraced Huntington Park," Tom Cooper said. "He liked it."

Calling hours will be 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Schoedinger Grove City Chapel, 3920 Broadway.

Memorial contributions may be made to the West Side Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, 115 S. Gift St., Columbus, 43215.