In the span of a week, MLB said goodbye to two legends, with Tom Seaver passing away last Monday and Lou Brock departing us on Sunday night. Ed Kranepool really said it best when he heard about Seaver, and the sad news continues.
Earlier this week Lou Brock passed away last Sunday, the cause of death was not made public. There’s never a great time to write about someone dear to a franchise and a fanbase, but now seems like as good a time as any to celebrate Brock’s rise as the son of sharecroppers in the segregated south to become an MLB star who electrified crowds with his speed and on-base prowess.
Brock was born in 1939 in rural Arkansas, to a family of sharecroppers. One of nine children, his single mother moved the family to a 300-person Louisiana town shortly after his birth — a town which had one school teacher for all grades, in a schoolhouse with no running water.
He ended up getting the baseball itch by sheer accident. Following an incident at school, his teacher assigned him a report on ball players including Jackie Robinson and Don Newcomb. Seeing the success of African Americans both on the field, and the money they were making as part of their contracts and sponsorships, Brock set his sights on honing his skills and harnessing his speed. He did not play organized baseball until he was a junior in high school, where he was known as having a raw talent of power and speed. If harnessed properly, there certainly was potential.
Brock made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 1961, en route to lifting himself out of poverty and out of oblivion, to become one of MLB’s most prolific base stealers. He spent four years with the North Siders, before Chicago’s front office traded him in a rare intradivional trade that was seen as a one-sided steal in favor of the Cubs.
As part of a six-player deal, Brock ended up as a starting outfielder for the rudderless, and Stan Musial-less Cardinals that was looking to solidify their lineup and bring some speed to the roster.
In his first season in St. Louis, Brock posted a career-high 146 OPS+, putting up a slash line of .348/.387/.527, delivering St. Louis their first World Series championship in nearly 20 years. He ended up playing in a total of three World Series, winning two of the three game sevens that each series went.
Brock served as a staple in the Cardinals’ outfield for 16 seasons, leading the league in stolen bases in eight of them. Between 1971 and 1974 Brock stole a total of 315 bases (to 90 caught stealing), making his mark on the game and on the franchise. He made six all star teams and despite being outside the top-ten in bWAR for the franchise, is considered one of the most electric and fun players to play in St. Louis --- a challenging task considering the franchise’s storied history.
Brock also had a reputation for being a teacher of the game to younger players. Keith Hernandez mentioned on an SNY Mets’ game broadcast earlier this week that Brock always had time for younger players, helping get scaled up to the majors and serving as an informal mentor to the hungriest of talented but raw players.
Brock joined the 3,000 hit club in his last season in St. Louis. He entered the 1979 season with 1900 hits, and ended up with 123 on the year. Overall, he posted a near-.300 batting average, 149 career home runs, and 938 stolen bases.
Following his on-field career, he worked as an instructor within the Cardinals’ organization, and founded several local businesses in the Greater St. Louis Area, including a successful florist shop. In 1985, the BBWAA elected Brock to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
Brock was a cancer survivor and struggled with complications from diabetes, from which he lost one of his legs. He was a survivor through-and-through, and will be remembered fondly by the Cardinals organization and the broader baseball community.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano