In a 20-season career, Cooney played for the Boston Bees/Braves (Braves, 1921–30, 1940–42; Bees, 1938–40) and also with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1935–37, 1943–44) and New York Yankees (1944), while hitting a .286 batting average (965-for-3372) with 219 RBI and only two home runs.
He had a very unique career. Perhaps one that we may never see again. He wasn’t the most accomplished player ever for the Braves. He was the only man to play in both leagues, coach in both leagues, manage in both leagues and umpire in one. He also had to overcome the obstacle of having surgery that left his throwing arm three inches shorter that his glove arm. He was a lefty.
He made 159 appearances as a pitcher from 1921 through 1930, all with Boston, winning 34 and losing 44 for a .436 winning percentage with 224 strikeouts and a 3.72 ERA in 795⅓ Innings pitched.
In Cooney’s 20 big league seasons, he only hit two home runs. They came on back to back days with the Bees in 1939.
According to Hank Greenberg’s biographer, before Greenberg’s very first spring training exhibition game in 1930 when his Detroit Tigers were set to play the Braves, Cooney felt sympathy towards the 19-year-old then known as Henry, took him aside before the game and promised, “Kid, I’m going to give you one you can hit.” He did, and Greenberg did, as the future Hall of Fame slugger launched an impressive homer over the fence.
Kid, I’m going to give you one you can hit. ~Johnny Cooney
Originally, in 1921, he was going to play for the Red Sox. I guess he like cash better than a check as the deal with the Red Sox would only be by check. The Braves paid in cash.
In his second stint in the Majors, after 1935, Cooney concentrated on playing outfield and first base. His two homers were hit in consecutive games in September 1939, when he again played for Boston. His best averages as a regular came with the Braves, .318 in 1940 and .319 in 1941.
In 1941 he seemed to be the on Brave who had his act together. He was 40 years old at the time. He was a league leader in hitting. He also led the outfielders with a .996 fielding average. Pretty good defense. He also broke up a no-hit bid by New York’s Bill Lohrman.