"We had a big laugh together," Cooper said. "I knew it was his time. He got that close last year, and as far as I'm concerned, there's no Hall of Fame without him in it. I felt that way from the beginning. It's great to see it finally happen."
Rice, in his final year of eligibility, received 76.4 percent of the votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He'll be inducted along with first-ballot selection Rickey Henderson, who garnered 94.8 percent of voters' support.
Rice and Cooper played together from 1974-76, until Cooper was traded to Milwaukee, where he spent the remainder of his career. During their years together, the teammates became inseparable, forming bonds strong enough to stand the test of time and distance.
Their wives, Octavia Cooper and Corine Rice, became fast friends, as did their kids -- long-distance friendships maintained with the help of joint family vacations, to Cooper's home in Texas, to Rice's in South Carolina or to Boston. These trips became a tradition over the course of 20 years.
Speaking via cell phone about Rice's election, Cooper sounded overcome as he gushed about his longtime friend.
"He's probably the closest friend I have," Cooper said. "And he's very appreciative to get in. A lot of people don't see that side of him. They always said he was hard to deal with, that he wasn't good with the media. But he's a caring guy, a real special person. I can't say enough to what he's meant in my life."
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for July 26, and Cooper hopes to be able to attend. The Astros, however, have a home game against the Mets that day and are slated to head to Chicago that evening to begin a road trip.
Cooper said he'll talk to his superiors to see if it's possible to take a temporary leave of absence to attend the ceremony. If not, Octavia is prepared to pinch-hit.
"My wife will probably represent," Cooper said. "[Corine is] her best buddy. We'll definitely have a presence there, in some way."