I’ve written several times and talked on my podcast a bunch about how I truly began following baseball in 1979 when I was 7 years old.
In retrospect, there were a lot of things that made that an idea time to start following this amazing game. One strange detail about 1979 was a Sports Illustrated feature that came out that summer.
This was the cover.
It featured caricatures of several veteran players who seemed to be having a blast of renewed glory in 1979. They wore glasses and a long beard and were swinging canes at asprins while sitting on a giant Rocking Chair.
The fact that Carl Yastrzemski was on the cover caught my eye. I knew he was a star for the Red Sox and chasing 3,000 hits and 400 homers that year. I learned those were bench marks for great careers. Gaylord Perry, the Cy Young winner from 1978, Willie Stargell, the co MVP of 1979 and superstar Pete Rose were on the cover. So was 20 game winner Phil Niekro and pinch hitting specialist Manny Mota.
I didn’t watch many National League games then, so I was educated on some of the senior circuit stars.
And there was Lou Brock. I had not heard of Lou Brock when I read the article. And the 7 year old version of your pal Sully was eager to learn all he could about baseball and its history. So I read the article.
1979 was the final year of Brock’s career, one that saw him hold virtually every stolen base record imaginable. He also collected HIS 3,000th hit that year, so I basically got confirmation of his greatness.
Brock grew up in Louisiana and did not participate in organized ball until his junior year of high school. He was discovered by the great Buck O’Neill, at the time scouting for the Cubs as he would introduce a galaxy of African American stars to the the team. 1961 was his lone minor league season and he was in Chicago by the end of the year.
Then after a few years, they traded him to the Cardinals.
OK, let’s try to defend the Lou Brock trade from the Cubs point of view.
First of all Ernie Broglio was a good pitcher. He finished third in the Cy Young vote in 1960 and was 18-8 with a 2.99 ERA in 1963, the year before the trade.
Secondly, it wasn’t a straight one for one trade.
The Cardinals included pitcher Bobby Shantz, a former MVP who had developed into a solid reliever, and Doug Clemens, a young outfielder.
Thirdly the Cubs were also throwing in Jack Spring and Paul Toth, both pitchers who had no real worth.
So the Cubbies thought they’d deal one good outfielder and two dead weight pitchers for a good starter, a good reliever and another young outfielder.
Granted, the pitchers they got from the Cardinals faded fast and Brock became not only a Hall of Famer with 3,000 hits and for a time the Stolen Base King, but also a career .391 hitter with a 1.079 OPS in 21 World Series games.
If the Cubs knew that, they probably wouldn’t have made the trade.
A few months after the trade, Brock was helping the Cardinals win the 1964 World Series, batting an even .300 in the series.
In 1967, he hit .414 in the World Series, stole 7 bases and posted an OPS of 1.107. He would have been the MVP had it not been for his teammate Bob Gibson.
1968, he hit .464 in the World Series loss to the Tigers, with an OPS of 1.373, 2 homers and 7 stolen bases.
The hits and the stolen bases kept on coming. His Hall of Fame candidacy was based on his stolen base records and 3,000 hits. He got on with the first ballot. Supporters of Tim Raines’ candidacy pointed out that Raines was the better all around player, getting on base more often than Brock.
Perhaps that is true. I believe the Hall of Fame is big enough for both Brock and Raines.
His greatness sure made an impression on me.
Brock made a few attempts at being an announcer, had success as a florist and became an ordained minister, along with his wife.
Recent years have seen a decline in his health. His leg was amputated in a cruel irony for a player who used his speed to get into the Hall of Fame. Earlier this year he announced he had multiple myeloma.
But we still have Mr. Brock and he should be honored. If he was good enough to grace that Sports Illustrated cover, you know he was good.