St. Louis Cardinals: Remembering the life and career of Lou Brock
Yesterday, St. Louis Post Dispatch broke the news that St. Louis Cardinals legend Lou Brock passed away at the age of 81. Not even 24 hours later, it’s still hard to fathom.
I am going to try to do my absolute best here to put into words what Lou Brock meant not only to the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but to the game of baseball.
When news of Brock’s passing traveled across social media and various news outlets, many tributes were posted.
Here are just some of the hundreds of messages of love and respect that have been shared.
Now it’s no secret that in recent years, Lou Brock battled various health ailments. In 2015, Brock, a diabetic, had part of his left leg amputated due to an infection from the disease. Two years later, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, which he overcame in July 2017.
Yet both on and off the baseball diamond, Lou Brock was a man who kept fighting in the face of adversity.
Growing up in tiny Collinston, Louisiana during the Jim Crow era without a father was difficult for Lou. When going to school, he would sit on the bus as it drove by all-white schools until it reached a one-room schoolhouse where he would excel as a student. Even still, Brock worried he would never leave his small Louisiana town.
His life would change as he wrote about some baseball legends for a class paper and eventually started playing the game at 13. Even in Louisiana, Brock would also tune into Jack Buck and Harry Caray on KMOX, strengthening his love for the game of baseball.
Upon graduation, Brock would attend Southern University, but he struggled with his studies and his academic scholarship was in jeopardy. Once again, he faced adversity. To pay for his college expenses, Brock tried out for the baseball team and earned an athletic scholarship.
As a star player for Southern, scouts began to take notice at Brock. At the end of his junior year, Buck O’Neil, a former Negro Leagues star now Chicago Cubs scout, signed Brock to a $30,000 signing bonus. The minor leagues proved to be no challenge for Brock, and he achieved his dream of becoming a Major League ballplayer.
Unfortunately, Lou Brock never got comfortable at Wrigley Field and with the Cubs. In his four years in Chicago, he only stole 50 bases and did not reach base often (.306 OBP). In need of pitching, the Cubs dealt Brock, along with Jack Spring and Paul Toth to St. Louis for prized pitcher Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens, and Bobby Shantz.
Hindsight is a funny thing sometimes. On paper, it appeared this trade was a win for Chicago. Broglio went 18-8 with a 2.99 ERA in 1963, so he was a quality pitcher, and Brock had not proven himself in the Majors. Even Bob Gibson was not a fan of the trade:
"Immediately, the trade was not well received by the Cardinals’ players. “We thought it was the worst trade ever,” said Gibson at the time."
There were also rumors about race being a factor, as Buck O’Neil said that the Cubs did not want their team to be “too black” for their fans, as the team already had two black stars in Ernie Banks and Billy Williams.
Now with a new team, Lou Brock got a new opportunity to show his skills. He took the chance and ran with it…literally.
Under manager Johnny Keane’s 1964 Cardinals, Lou Brock became a premier lead-off hitter. He hit .348, gathered 148 hits, and stole 33 bases in 103 games. His offensive performance directly helped the Cardinals clinch the pennant and win the 1964 World Series against a Mickey Mantle-led New York Yankees team in seven games.
"Bill White, the first baseman on the 1964 team, took Brock under his wing, to a degree, by allowing him to live with White at the latter’s home in Des Peres after Brock had come here from Chicago. “We couldn’t have won in ’64 without him,” said White. “No way.“He was a good teammate, one of the best anybody could have. One hundred percent all the time. Two hundred percent.”"
For the next sixteen years with St. Louis, Lou Brock tormented National League catchers to the tune of 888 stolen bases in a Redbird uniform. He also proved to be a tremendous force in World Series play with an average slash line of .391/.424/.655 in three World Series. Lou Brock’s best year came in 1974 at age 35 when he broke Maury Wills’ stolen base record with 118 steals.
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On August 13, 1979, in his final year in the Majors, Lou Brock became a member of the illustrious 3,000 hit club with an infield hit against, ironically, the Chicago Cubs.
When I look back at Brock’s career, his ability to overcome challenges and adversity sets him apart from other ballplayers. Lou Brock embodied the toughness and dedication needed to succeed in Major League Baseball. It should not be surprising that Red Schoendienst, when reflecting on Lou Brock, called him the “toughest SOB I’ve ever seen.”
So to Lou Brock, we tip our caps. Thank you for being a role model for baseball players and fans all over. Thank you for the dedication to the Cardinals organization. We will never forget your smile, positively, and graciousness. RIP Lou.