Without Lou Brock, I may not like baseball as much as I do today.
One could call it a stretch. After all, my dad’s old man famously paced the front porch of his home off Bancroft and Macklind while ranting about the latest Cardinals’ heartbreaking incident. It could have come naturally since my dad was a casual sports fan and enjoyed the game, and my brother played it when I was kid. But I’d make a strong bet on the fact that my mom loved the game of baseball, so I had to as well.
After all, mothers pass a lot down to their kids, because nine months is a long time spent huddled together to not find a connection. Some things just synchronize automatically, while others marinate into the future nameholder. I loved baseball since I was seven years old, when a Cardinals first baseman named Pedro Guerrero soaked up all my attention.
But the name on the front of the jersey, the birds on the bat with the best shiny colors adjourning the threads, demanded a deeper introspection. Before Guerrero wore it for a few years, more than a few legends made it shine for decades. One of those guys was Brock, who happened to be my mom’s favorite player.
While Willie McGee had a soft spot in my mom’s heart, Brock owned it. She mentioned him often and fondly, which must have sank into my skull like the relentless St. Louis summer heat. I saw some newspaper clippings and heard a few tall tales that never left the mind. The one time Brock stole this many bases, or made the other team look foolish while carrying the world’s largest smile. As Robin Williams’ wise professor once told an emotionally-conflicted Matt Damon, that’s the good stuff.
The details that never leave a kid’s head, so when I started to carve out my own piece in this world, baseball had to be a part of it. Players like Brock, wearing the birds on the bat in a way only kings could, were a staple in my pastime. Let’s face it, wherever the Cardinals went, the name “Lou” went with it.
The guy hadn’t played in a single game since 1979, but seemed to embody everything a mad scientist could sink into the ultimate Cardinal. He was supremely talented on the field, but generous and caring off the field. Brock smiled more than he frowned, never letting a bad day get him down. The man oozed confidence like a hot head lets off heat, but that never stopped him from bringing a new face up. Read how Adam Wainwright described their first interaction:
They don’t make those souls that often. Brock was a rare make and model, like the mechanic just retired after the first edition. He lifted others up in a time and place where social media couldn’t give an athlete’s goodwill wind beneath its wings. Brock was old school the clearest glimpse of the phrase, bringing joy to others while being elite inside the white lines.
He gathered MVP votes in 10 different seasons. Brock collected over ten triples in six different years. The man was once caught stealing 33 times, but that’s only because he stole 118 of those bases. Brock was a saint off the field, but a straight con man on the bases. He stole over 40 bases in a season during 13 different summers. He once said a hit could feel useless if you stayed on first base. Who wants to feel satisfied with one base? Brock wanted them all, including home if the pitcher and catcher snoozed a little too much.
Nobody can forget that St. Louis got to witness so many thefts at Busch Stadium for the simple fact that the Cardinals’ front office pulled the biggest con on the Chicago Cubs in that trade many, many years ago. But Brock had to go out and earn that win for the Cardinals in the transaction. It was fitting yet bittersweet that Brock passed away while the Cardinals and Cubs were engaged in some weekend baseball.
A small group of baseball players can think like that on a field at an elite level, and drop it so quick after a game in order to stand on the same level as their peers. Brock never put down another player or tried to create drama. A gentler heart didn’t exist in the game back then. It now no longer exists on this Earth and for that, I am a sad baseball fan today. It also makes me fear Sept. 6, a day that has taken Chris Duncan and Brock in back-to-back years.
The world is not a better place without Lou Brock in it. I always knew he was going to steal heaven eventually. I just wish he had waited a little longer.
81 years is a good total for a human to steal from life, but like any St. Louis baseball soul, I wanted more.