They said he was the fastest man in baseball.

In the summer of 1980, in the midst of a historic presidential campaign and the infamous Atlanta child murder mysteries, Jimmy Carter was serving his one and only term as president while fellow Georgian Gary Cooper was playing his one and only season in the MLB. Some of the fastest ballplayers of the era – Rickey Henderson, Ron LeFlore and Willie Wilson – were fast becoming household names.

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But for Cooper, baseball held a different fate.

“If he wasn’t the fastest man in baseball,” said Paul Snyder, longtime scouting director for the Atlanta Braves, who died Nov. 23, 2023. “he was right up there with the next guy.”

Cooper, then a 23-year-old rookie outfielder, spent 42 days on the Braves’ roster that summer as a pinch-runner and leftfielder for manager Bobby Cox. He played in 21 games and went to the plate twice.

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Just a week after a rainout against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 29 that year, a game the Braves were not required to make up, Cooper was sent back to the minor leagues and never made it back to the show. After one more season in the Braves’ farm system with the 1981 Durham Bulls, Cooper decided to hang up his cleats.

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“I didn’t have nothin’ to prove back in the minors,” he said. “I just felt like it was time to call it quits.”

But what Cooper didn’t fully realize until many years later is that he had come within 24 hours — just one day on the Braves’ roster — of qualifying for a pension from the Major League Baseball Players Association.