Baseball legend Lou Brock dies on Sept. 6 at age 81

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St. Louis Cardinals great Lou Brock throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to game two of the MLB World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Oct. 20, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri.
JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES/TNS

BY RICK HUMMEL
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/TNS

St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who had fought through a number of medical conditions in recent years, died Sunday afternoon (Sept. 6). He was 81.

Brock will be remembered for many accomplishments. He was the National League’s all-time leader in stolen bases with 938. He had 3,023 hits. He was a first-ballot electee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

But he may be known mostly as the centerpiece of what was perceived as the greatest trade in Cardinals history. Or just greatest baseball trade ever.

On June 15, 1964, the Cardinals acquired Brock, a raw, 24-year-old outfielder from the Chicago Cubs in a trade that cost them popular right-hander Ernie Broglio, who had been an 18-game winner for them the prior season although he was 3-5 in 1964 and perhaps injured.

Immediately, the trade was not well received by the Cardinals’ players. “We thought it was the worst trade ever,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson.

WORLD SERIES STATS

After all, Southern University product Brock had batted only .263, .258 and .251 in his 2 ½ years with the Cubs, albeit hitting some prodigious home runs, including one to dead center field in New York’s historic Polo Grounds.

But Brock, not counted on for power but as a table setter for the Cardinals, would hit .348 the rest of the 1964 season and steal 33 bases as the Cardinals rallied to win the National League pennant on the last day of the regular season and went on to beat the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series to bring St. Louis its first World Series title since 1946.

Brock hit .300 in that World Series and then, showing he was at his best when the lights were brightest, batted .414 with seven stolen bases in the 1967 World Series, which the Cardinals won in seven games from Boston. He also hit .464 with seven more steals and a record 13 hits in the 1968 World Series loss against Detroit.

Catcher Tim McCarver, who was on all of those clubs, beginning with 1964, said, “We were so close to Broglio. Our friendship blinded us to what kind of effect Lou would have on the team — until we saw him run.”

“Ernie … great guy. Great guy. But, without Lou, we obviously don’t win. We wouldn’t have come close.”

Broglio was only 7-19 over three seasons after joining the Cubs and his career was over after the 1966 season.

Brock, who would establish himself as one of the greatest lead-off hitters ever, recalled his teammates asking him after he got hot in the second half of the 1964 season, “Are you sure you were a Cub?”

“I had gone to another dimension as a ball player,” he said. “When you go to another dimension, you may be the same guy, look the same, act the same, but you play a lot different.”

PASSED COBB’S MARK

Brock played the game almost like no one else. From 1965, he began a stretch of 12 seasons where he averaged 65 steals and 99 runs scored a year, featuring his record-setting season in 1974 when he set the then major-league stolen-base record of 118 while finishing second in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player, an award he probably should have won.

In 1977, Brock passed Ty Cobb’s all-time stolen base mark of 892 and he led the league in steals every year but one from 1966-74. He once said the only sure way to stop him was to “don’t let me reach first base.”

Brock considered base stealing a philosophic, as much as a physical action.

“First base is useless,” he said in 1974. “And most of the time it is useless to stay there.

“On the other hand, second base is really the safest place on the field. When I steal second, I practically eliminate the double play. And I can score on any ball hit past the infield.”

To Brock, “the most important thing about base stealing is not the steal of the base but distracting the pitcher’s concentration. If I can do that, then the hitter will have a better pitch to swing at and I will get a better chance to steal.”

For 16 seasons there, Brock galvanized fans. When he would steal a base or leg out a triple, or really do almost anything positive, the Busch Stadium crowds would chant, “Lou! Lou! Lou!”

NUMBER RETIRED

In 1978, Brock hit a career low .221 for the Cardinals and often was benched in the second half of the season by manager Ken Boyer, his former teammate. Brock took that personally, along with articles that had speculated that he was finished. Brock proudly announced the next spring that he was “orchestrating his own exodus.” This meant that 1979 would be his last season but that he would go out with a bang.

Brock was spot on. He hit .304 at age 40 and stole 21 bases. One of his 123 hits that year was No. 3,000 for his career, a single off the hand of Cubs right-hander Dennis Lamp, at Busch Stadium II.

Brock’s number 20 was retired by the Cardinals in 1979. He later became a businessman, a broadcaster, a special base-running instructor, a minister and, finally a survivor.

In 2015, Brock had his left leg amputated below the knee due to a diabetes-related infection. His life in some jeopardy at one point, Brock rebounded less than six months later to stand, unaided, as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day 2016.

Not surprisingly, a full house at Busch Stadium III — he had played in the other two — screamed, “Lou! Lou! Lou!”

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