Brock, Lou(is Clark)

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BROCK, Lou(is Clark)

(b. 18 June 1939 in El Dorado, Arkansas), legendary National League base stealer who held single-season (118) and career (938) stolen-base records at the time of his retirement in 1979.

One of nine children born to a family of sharecroppers, Brock did not seem destined to become a baseball star. After his father, Maud Brock, deserted them while Brock was still an infant, his mother, Paralee Brock, moved the family to Collinston, Louisiana, where she worked as a domestic and a farm laborer. She instilled in her children a strong religious faith, an uncompromising work ethic, and a love for education.

Brock did not play baseball until his freshman year at Union High School in Mer Rouge, Louisiana, but by his senior year he was hitting .540. The young athlete's performance in the classroom matched his accomplishments on the field, and he graduated third in a class of 105 students in 1957. He entered Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on an academic scholarship, majoring in mathematics. Attempting to supplement his financial aid, he tried out for the baseball team as a walk-on, with the aim of obtaining an athletic scholarship. After four weeks of practice, Brock finally got to bat, hitting the first five pitches over the right-field fence. In his sophomore year he hit .545 and helped Southern become the first black college to win the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) baseball championship.

Brock's heroics as a player led to his selection to the U.S. baseball team for the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago. There he befriended an American sprinter, Deacon Jones, who taught Brock acceleration techniques that served the ballplayer well when he later became the game's best base stealer. By Brock's junior year at Southern, major league scouts had taken notice of his skills. The Chicago Cubs' Buck O'Neil saw him as having the perfect baseball physique as well as a hunger for excellence. After a tryout Brock signed with the Cubs in 1961 for a $30,000 bonus. He played in the Northern League at Saint Cloud, Minnesota, and performed so well—batting .361 and leading the team in hits, runs, and doubles—that he was called up to Chicago at the end of the 1961 season.

With the Cubs, the game that had always been so easy for Brock suddenly became very difficult. For almost two and a half seasons he struggled to hit .260, fielded poorly because of Wrigley Field's blinding right-field sun, and did not have the green light to run. It appeared that his big-league career would be short and that his failures would cause him to lose what the journalist David Halberstam calls "that most critical of athletic abilities: to relax and just play." Fortunately, the Cardinals of St. Louis, Missouri, saw a potential in Brock that the Cubs did not. Searching in June 1964 to find the missing piece of their underachieving team, the Cardinals traded pitcher Ernie Broglio (18–8 in 1963) to Chicago for outfielder Brock in what would become one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history. Following the trade Broglio won only seven more games before his career in the majors ended.

In 1964 Brock hit .251 for the Cubs through fifty-two games. After being traded to the Cardinals, he hit .348 in 103 games. He explained his change in performance in his autobiography: "With the Cardinals, I knew that you had a right to fail. Failure at one thing was permissible in the interest of letting you succeed at another." He had lost his fear of looking bad, which inspired his classic observation, "Show me a man who's afraid to look bad, and I'll show you a guy you can beat every time." In the last week of the 1964 season Brock drove the surging Cardinals past the collapsing Philadelphia Phillies to win the National League pennant. The Cardinals went up against Mickey Mantle's New York Yankees in that fall's World Series and won the title in seven games.

In the remaining years of Brock's career as baseball's premier speedster, three seasons—the 1967, 1968, and 1974 seasons—were particularly impressive. In 1967 he had 206 hits, 113 runs, twenty-one homers, and seventy-six runs batting lead off, helping the Cardinals blow out the rest of the National League for the pennant. In that year's World Series Brock hit .414 with twelve hits, scoring eight runs and stealing seven bases to lead the Cardinals past the Red Sox in seven games.

Brock maintained his torrid pace in 1968, leading the National League in doubles (forty-six), triples (fourteen), and stolen bases (sixty-two) as the Cardinals outshone their competition, again winning the pennant. In the Fall Classic against the Detroit Tigers, Brock amazingly elevated his game above the previous year's World Series, hitting .464 with thirteen hits, stealing seven bases, and moving the legendary baseball scribe Leonard Koppett to remark, "Lou Brock is the most brilliant Cardinal of this (or any) Series." Unfortunately for St. Louis fans, Detroit defeated the Cardinals in seven games. From the 1968 season through the 1973 season, Brock stole 363 bases, and led the league in stolen bases in 1971, 1972, and 1973. He also shared a World Series record with 14 base steals (tying Eddie Collins), and set one with his .391 batting average in three Series.

Brock's last great season came in 1974, when, at the age of thirty-four, he shattered Maury Wills's single-season stolen-base record of 104 by committing 118 thefts, showcasing for the national media his unparalleled ability to read pitchers' moves and follow with his patented pop-up slide. By the time he retired after the 1979 season, Brock had surpassed Ty Cobb as the major league's all-time stolen-base leader, with a career total of 938. He was also only the fourteenth player to have attained 3,000 career hits. Brock played in six All-Star Games, won eight National League titles for base stealing, and compiled a .391 World Series batting average in twenty-one games, setting a series record. For these accomplishments he was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

His first marriage, to his high school sweetheart, produced two children before it ended in divorce in 1974. He and his second wife, the Reverend Jacqueline A. Brock, had three children and live in St. Louis, where they are active in business and charitable ventures, most notably the Lou Brock Scholarship Foundation. His awards, honors, and tributes include the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award (1975), a bronze statue in his likeness at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and the renaming of the annual stolen-base leader award to the Lou Brock Award.

Brock's teammate Bob Gibson once commented, "Lou Brock is the best damn money player I ever saw on the Cardinals," while first baseman Bill White quantified Brock's value more specifically: "Lou Brock is worth one run a game." Both observations accurately reflect why, in 1998, the Sporting News ranked Lou Brock fifty-eighth among the hundred greatest baseball players of all time.

Brock collaborated with Fran Schulze on his autobiography, Stealing Is My Game (1976). William B. Mead, Two Spectacular Seasons: 1930—The Year the Hitters Ran Wild; 1968—The Year the Pitchers Took Revenge (1990), devotes considerable attention to Brock, as does David Halberstam, October 1964 (1994). A great interview with Brock is in St. Louis Cardinals Gameday Magazine 5 (1999).

Talmage Boston

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Brock, Lou(is Clark)

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