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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Louis "Lou" Brock

Sport: Baseball

Induction Year: 1983

When Louis Clark Brock was growing up in the rural North Louisiana community of Mer Rouge, he didn't dream of reaching the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown , N. Y.

He didn't know it existed.

Brock didn't take baseball seriously until he was caught throwing a spitball at a girl in the fourth grade class at his all-black school.

The missile was off-target, hitting the teacher. Lou's “punishment” was to write a research paper on the lives of Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson, who had just broken the color barrier in major league baseball.

References to the money they made playing baseball puzzled the fourth grader. He couldn't comprehend numbers like $30,000 and $100,000. “What's this number?” he asked his teacher.

When she explained, the youngster started taking baseball seriously.

After high school, college talent scouts weren't exactly camped on the Brocks' doorstep. He wrote to several schools and only one responded—Southern University, in Baton Rouge . Lou hitchhiked to Baton Rouge , working as a janitor and mowing lawns while he waited for the baseball season to arrive.

When it did, Brock spent a month trying to impress coach Emory Hines. But Hines didn't pay any attention to Brock until he collapsed in the outfield shagging flies. Bending over the prone figure, the Jaguars' coach asked, “What happened?”

“I want to make the team,” Brock murmured.

“Okay,” Hines replied. “Swing a bat.”

He took five swings, and hit four of them over the fence.

Despite that impressive introduction, Brock hit only .186 as a freshman. But hew was over .500 the next year, and Jaguars won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship.

Brock wasn't stealing bases then. He was a power hitter, going 10-for-11 in a doubleheader at Jackson State . When pro scouts showed up to check out Wiley College pitcher Johnny Berry, Brock tied the game with a night inning homer and won it, 2-1, with another homer in the 11th.

He passed up his senior year to accept a $30,000 bonus from the Chicago Cubs. After leading the Northern League in hitting with .361 and stealing 38 bases for St. Cloud , Minn. , Brock went to the parent club at the end of the 1961 season and cracked the starting lineup the next year.

In 1964, the cubs made a trade that ranks among the worst in baseball history. They sent Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio. Brock broke all of the base-stealing records en route to the Hall of Fame, while Broglio won 10 games in three seasons before bowing out of baseball.

The trade paid immediate dividends for the Cardinals as Brock hit .315 and stole 43 bases to help St. Louis win its first world title since 1946. One day after Bob Gibson pitched the Cards to a 7-5 victory over the Yankees in the final game of the World Series, Johnny Keane resigned as the St. Louis manager and the Yankees fired Yogi Berra—and eventually hired keane.

That was the first of three World Series appearances for Brock, as the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in 1967 and lost to the Tigers one year later. Brock's .391 batting average in three World Series is the record for a player appearing in 20 or more games, surpassing marks of .363 by Frank “Home Run” Baker and .361 by Lou Gehrig.

The record that put Brock in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame were for stealing bases. He broke Ty Cobb's single season and career records, becoming the first player to break the 900 barrier in career stolen bases and the only player to steal more than 50 bases in 12 consecutive seasons (the previous record was eight, by Cobb).

In 1977, when he was 35 years old, Brock set the modern record with 118 stolen bases. He hit .306 that year and was selected “Player of the Year” by The Sporting News.

Brock's success on the basepaths was no accident. He literally became a student of the art of stealing bases, taking movies of pitchers and other base-stealing champs. He kept charts and statistics, and used computers near the end of his career. He talked with Louis Aparicio and Maury Willis, but got some of his best tips from “Cool Papa” Bell , the legendary Negro League star.

“In stealing bases,” Brock said, “it's not how fast you can run, but whether or not you can read the pitchers and understand the movable parts of the body. The pitcher is the only man who can stop a base-runner. It's so simple, yet so complicated. By 1966, I figured the sky was the limit. By that time, I had taken all the guesswork out of stealing bases.”

On the negative side, he was often among the league leaders in strikeouts, and ranked fifth all-time major league career list in that category. He also set major league records by (1) being caught stealing 295 times in his career and (2) leading National League outfielders in errors seven times.

Brock, who played in five All-Star Games, hit over .300 eight times, includeing his final season (hitting .304 at the age of 40). “Getting my 3,000th hit was the crowning point of my career,” he said. “It was the star on the crown, and I enjoyed that better than any other milestone.”

Except for the day in 1985 when he was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.

“When you stand at that podium,” he said, “the history begins to hit you. Standing up there and being able to take my place among the greatest players who ever played major league baseball—all of a sudden, it hits you, and your knees just turn to jelly. It was the proudest moment of my life.”

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