Success in professional baseball is fleeting enough that players should savor every one of their accomplishments because there is no telling which one will be their last. This is especially true of players who are not stars, but have enough talent to reach the majors. Team circumstances and positional depth often determine how much opportunity those types of players will receive, and from there it is up to the individual as to what they do with it. One player who took advantage of the opening he was given was pitcher Ron Cook, who logged 46 major league games in the early 1970’s.
Cook was a talented left-handed pitcher who was signed by the New York Yankees in 1966. He saw his first professional action in 1967, appearing in three games. Therefore, it was not surprising when he was made available in that year’s minor league draft and was scooped up by the Houston Astros. As a franchise still in their formative years, the Astros needed talent and depth at just about every position, so they were willing to take a chance on any player who they felt had some ability.
Houston didn’t seem to be able to know where Cook fit, so he shuttled back and forth between starting and relieving. He showed enough in the minors that he was able to break spring training with the big league team in 1970. That year’s squad was young, especially in the bullpen, and Cook assumed the role of the long man. He appeared in 41 games, all but 7 in relief, and went 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA. He also had an unusual batting line for a pitcher, with 2 of his 4 hits on the year going for triples. All in all, he had a pretty good rookie season and the Astros under the leadership of Harry “The Hat” Walker finished just four games under .500.
What happened in 1971 to Cook was something that has unfortunately been experienced by many other players over time. He suffered an injury in winter ball prior to the start of the season, preventing him from making the Opening Day roster. Although he eventually pitched later that season with the Astros, he appeared in only 5 games (4 starts), and struggled with a 0-4 record and 4.91 ERA. He pitched two more seasons in the minors, but was not able to regain the same command or velocity and never got back to Houston again.
Cook finished his career with a record of 4-8 with a 4.00 ERA in 46 games, including 11 starts. He also had 2 saves and struck out 60 batters in 108 innings. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/cookro02.shtml. He proved that he could pitch at the major league level, but factors out of his control shortened his time in the game. Like every other player who has made it to the majors, Cook has many unique stories and memories from his playing career, some of which he recently shared with me.
Ron Cook Questionnaire:
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: 1966- Frank Verdi in the New York-Penn League as an outfielder. 1970- Jim Owens, the pitching coach for Houston.
What was the strangest play you ever saw as a player?: I picked off Lou Brock twice in one night at first base while relief pitching in St. Louis in 1970. Check the stats!
Who was the fairest umpire you saw during your career?: Once a pitcher knew their strike zone, they were all fair.
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: Not tear my pitching shoulder rotator cuff while pitching in Venezuela at the end of my rookie year.
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