This blog entry is dedicated to setting the record straight regarding Lou Brock and his two steals of home.
Unfortunately, some reports, including a book produced by ESPN and an article in the digital archives of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), state Brock never stole home during his big-league career. Those reports are inaccurate.
Brock stole home twice on the front end of double steals. He did it first with the Cubs on May 24, 1964, against the Reds at Cincinnati. He repeated the feat with the Cardinals on Aug. 6, 1970, against the Mets at St. Louis.
But the incorrect reports about Brock never stealing home are prevalent on Internet search engines such as Google.
“ESPN: The Mighty Book of Sports Knowledge” (2009, Ballantine) has an item about Lou Gehrig stealing home 15 times during his career with the Yankees. The book, edited by Steve Wulf, incorrectly concludes, “Although that’s nowhere near the record of 54 set by Ty Cobb, it is 15 more than the total of Lou Brock.”
A research article on the same topic by Raymond J. Gonzalez in the SABR archives incorrectly reports, “The recent disclosure that Lou Brock had never stolen home … came as quite a surprise. Modern players are still stealing home … but Brock … has never done it.”
Possibly adding to the misinformation is a 2009 Sports Illustrated article. Ted Keith of SI.com wrote, “Only four of the 1,406 steals by career leader Rickey Henderson were straight steals of home, and that’s four more than Lou Brock (938), the man whose record Henderson broke, had in his Hall of Fame career.”
It’s true that neither of Brock’s steals of home were so-called “straight steals,” meaning his wasn’t the lone steal on the play. But the Sports Illustrated piece leaves the false impression Brock never stole home. The fact those thefts were on double steals (each time, a runner swiped second while Brock stole home) doesn’t diminish or erase the accomplishment.
It was while reseraching a recent blog post about Stan Musial’s four career steals of home that I became curious about how many times Brock had done it. Because of accurate information provided by BaseballLibrary.com, I was able to find the answer. I then researched the details. Here is what I found:
Mets pitcher Tom Seaver had won nine consecutive decisions entering his Aug. 6, 1970, start against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium II. Brock led off the Cardinals’ first inning with a double and moved to third on an infield out. Joe Hague walked and Richie Allen struck out.
When Hague, who would have just four steals in a six-year big-league career, took off from first on a steal attempt, catcher Jerry Grote threw to second and Brock raced toward home. Second baseman Wayne Garrett took Grote’s throw and fired back to the catcher. But Brock and Hague were safe on a successful double steal. It was one of only two steals for Hague that season and it was Brock’s lone steal of home as a Cardinal.
The thefts came against a battery that was good in guarding against steals. Grote would throw out 39 percent of the baserunners attempting to steal against him in 1970 and he ranked fifth among National League catchers that year in number caught attempting to steal (26). Seaver pitched in 37 games in 1970 and yielded only 14 stolen bases.
Brock’s steal of home gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead and propelled them to a 3-0 victory.
Asked about the play, Mets manager Gil Hodges told the Associated Press, “When you can’t execute properly, that’s what costs you.” Boxscore
Less than a month before he was traded by the Cubs to the Cardinals, Brock stole home for the first time in the big leagues. In the opener of a doubleheader on May 24, 1964, at Crosley Field, Brock singled off Reds starter Jim O’Toole with one out in the first. A single by Billy Williams advanced Brock to third. Brock and Williams then executed a double steal. The thefts were two of only 10 allowed by O’Toole in 30 games for Cincinnati in 1964. The catcher, Hal Smith, a backup in his 10th and final big-league season, threw out five of 12 baserunners (42 percent) attempting to steal that year. Boxscore
Brock is the all-time National League leader in steals and ranks second in major-league history to Henderson. Brock had 50 steals with the Cubs and 888 with the Cardinals. In 1974, when Brock swiped a career-high 118 for St. Louis, he had 112 steals of second and six of third.
He only once attempted to steal home that season. On Sept. 6, 1974, after Brock drove in a run with a fifth-inning triple, Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman, attempting a pickoff, threw to third baseman Wayne Garrett, catching Brock with too big a lead. Brock broke for home and Garrett’s peg to catcher Duffy Dyer was in time to nail Brock.
“I didn’t think Koosman would throw over there,” Brock said to the Associated Press.
Three innings later, though, Brock singled against reliever Harry Parker and then stole second and third on successive pitches. The steals were Brock’s 100th and 101st of the season.
Said Parker to the AP: “It’s like trying to keep water from going over the dam. You know what’s coming, but you’re powerless.” Boxscore