As one of the most dangerous men to run around the bases in the history of Major League Baseball, Lou Brock’s daring speed and talent remains unmatched. An iconic member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Brock will forever be known for his clutch ability during his 19-year reign in baseball.
Born into a family of sharecroppers, his family did not have much money but he often would say that he never felt poor. “If you don’t have something, you don’t miss it.” Growing up, Brock was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers – the team that would house Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella.
Surprisingly, Brock did not play organized baseball until high school – he learned about the sport while listening to Harry Caray on the radio, broadcasting the St. Louis Cardinals. While he had received academic assistance to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, he decided to try out for the baseball team in order to secure an athletic scholarship after receiving a low grade during the first semester that jeopardized his academic assistance.
Despite hitting only .189 in his first year of college baseball, he improved to a .500 average during the next season. He was eventually selected for the United States baseball team in the 1959 Pan American Games.
With the decision of trying out for a professional baseball career, he traveled to St. Louis to try out for the Cardinals – unfortunately, the scout was in Seattle. Ultimately, he decided to try out for the Chicago Cubs, who signed him as an amateur free agent in 1960. He went on to win the 1961 Northern League batting championship with a .361 batting average while playing for the St. Cloud Rox. He would only play one season in MiLB as the Cubs would promote him to the Majors shortly after.
Brock made his debut with the Cubs on September 10, 1961 at the age of 22. During his rookie season of 1962, he became one of four players to hit a home run into the center field bleachers at Polo Grounds in New York since its reconstruction in 1923. The home run came against Al Jackson in the first game of a doubleheader on June 17 against the New York Mets.
Although he had incredible speed and base running technique, the Cubs were not impressed with his combined .260 average during his first two seasons with the club. In 1964, the Cubs traded Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals. His talent increased the team’s speed and solidified the lineup which had began to struggle after the retirement of Stan Musial.
After the trade, he was moved to left field from right field and batted .348 with a total of 38 stolen bases. He would go on to finish in 10th place for the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player Award.
By 1966, Brock would end Maury Wills’ six-year reign as the NL stolen base champion with 74 steals. It has been said that manager Johnny Keane told Brock to forgo hitting home runs in favor of stealing bases. He went on to lead the NL eight times within a nine-year span between 1966 and 1974.
In the 1967, he began the season by hitting five home runs in the first four games – becoming the first player to do this in baseball history He hit .328 by mid-June and earned the role as the starting left fielder for the 1967 All-Star Game. He became the first player to steal 50 bases and hit 20 home runs in the same season. During the 1967 World Series, Brock hit for a .414 average, scored eight runs and also set a World Series record with seven stolen bases as the birds defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games.
The Cardinals won the National League pennant in 1968 as Brock led the league in stolen bases as well as doubles and triples. During the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Brock had three stolen bases in Game 3 and hit a double, triple, home run and four runs batted in during Game 4. Although his base running abilities had proven to help aid the Cardinals, his carelessness possibly cost his team a run. After hitting a double, he tried to score standing up, but Willie Horton threw him out with a strong throw to home plate. During Game 7, Brock had another miscue when he was picked off by Lolich, extinguishing the Cardinals rally.
By the end of the 1960s, Brock began to enter his prime. In the beginning of the 1969 season, he produced six consecutive seasons with 190 hits. He was named NL Player of the Month first the first of three times in his career in May 1971 with a .405 batting average and eight stolen bases.
In August 1973, he broke a record set by Ty Cobb when he stole his 50th base of the season. He went on to win his second NL Player of the Month Award in August of 1974, with 29 stolen bases in 30 games. He was the first better to be named Player of the Month without hitting a home run in the month of his award.
On September 10, 1974, Brock tied Wills’ single-season mark of 104 with a first inning steal of second base and would capture the sole possession of the record during the seventh inning. He finished second to Steve Garvey in the 1974 National League Most Valuable Player Award. By the end of August in 1977, Brock became the all-time leader in stolen bases by breaking Ty Cobb’s career record of 892. Before that fateful day, the record was considered unbreakable by many.
By late into the 1979 season, Brock became the 14th player in Major League Baseball history to reach 3,000 hits and it came against the team that had traded him – the Chicago Cubs. He retired at the end of the season after posting a .304 average at the age of 40. He was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year – the first to be named in his final season.
Throughout his 19-year career, Brock played in 2,616 games with 3,023 hits in 10,332 at-bats for a career batting average of .293 with 486 doubles, 141 triples, 149 home runs, 900 RBI, 1,610 runs, 938 stolen bases, 761 walks, .343 on-base percentage and a .410 slugging percentage. He was a six-time All-Star and hit over .300 eight times in his career.
Rickey Henderson broke his single-season stolen base record in 1982. Henderson would also go on to break Brock’s career stolen bases in 1991. Despite this, Brock is still the National League leader in career stolen bases.
He received the Babe Ruth Award in 1968 as the outstanding player in the 1967 World Series. He was honored with The Sporting News Player of the Year Award in 1974 and was named the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award in 1975. In 1977, he was awarded the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and then in 1978, the National League announced that its annual stolen base leader would receive the Lou Brock Award – making him the first active player to have an award named after him.
He was named the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 1979. On September 9, 1979, the St. Louis Cardinals retired Brock’s jersey number 20. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985 during his first year of eligibility. In 2014, the Cardinals inducted Brock into the inaugural class for the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.
In 1999, he was ranked number 58 on The Sporting News’ list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
After retirement, Brock prospered as a businessman and florist in the St. Louis area. He worked as a color analyst for Monday Night Baseball on ABC in 1980 and for the Chicago White Sox telecasts the following year. He and his wife are both ordained ministers that serve at Abundant Life Fellowship Church in St. Louis – where Brock has been a prominent figure in the community.
Due to an infection related to diabetes, Brock’s left leg was amputated below the knee in 2015. He would later announced that his was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in April 2017. By July 2017, Brock and his wife received word from his doctors that the cancerous cells were gone.
Lou Brock will forever be an iconic figure in Major League Baseball and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. A glorious man of God that left his mark on and off the field. There will never be another Lou Brock.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)