Recognition for being a player of multiple skills was as important to Lou Brock as being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Though base stealing was his signature talent, attributes such as smarts, work ethic, teamwork, being a catalyst and ability to intimidate opponents helped make Brock a Hall of Famer of special distinction.
Aside from the inaugural Hall of Fame class of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, the 14 players who preceded Brock in being elected their first time on the ballot were Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson.
“I think my greatest gift was the ability to be a force on the field, to beat you many ways,” Brock said to United Press International after learning of his election. “I was an unpredictable guy who could beat you in the clutch.”
Brock was named on 315 of 395 ballots (79.5 percent). A candidate needed to be named on 75 percent of the ballots to get elected.
Also elected that year was Hoyt Wilhelm. A knuckleball specialist, Wilhelm was the first relief pitcher elected. He played for nine teams, including the 1957 Cardinals.
Brock played 16 years (1964-79) with the Cardinals after four seasons (1961-64) with the Cubs. His most impressive career statistics: 938 stolen bases (still the National League record) and 3,023 hits in 2,616 games.
With the Cardinals, Brock had 888 steals, 1,427 runs and 2,713 hits in 2,289 games. Primarily a left fielder, Brock ranks second to Stan Musial all-time among Cardinals in hits, runs and games.
Brock also ranks second all-time among big leaguers in steals (Rickey Henderson has 1,406) and 10th all-time among left-handed batters in hits. He led the National League in steals eight times, including 1974, when he had a career-high 118 at age 35.
“His speed meant so much that he had a greater effect and worried more pitchers than any home run hitter did,” Ted Sizemore, the Cardinals infielder who often batted second in the order behind Brock in 1974, told Rick Hummel of The Sporting News after learning of Brock’s election.
Said Brock: “I was a force that had to be reckoned with.”
Asked by Hummel to describe his legacy, Brock said it was his “ability to light the fuse to enthusiasm, to cause teams and myself to play to the limit of their ability. You become a chemist, which makes a team tick. I think I had that ability.”
Will to win
Acquired along with pitchers Paul Toth and Jack Spring by the Cardinals from the Cubs for pitchers Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens on June 15, 1964, Brock sparked the Cardinals to two World Series titles (1964 and 1967) and three NL pennants.
“He was a hard worker,” Bing Devine, the Cardinals general manager who made the trade, said to the Associated Press after Brock was elected. “He worked very hard to become the expert base stealer he was. The base stealing is the dramatic thing about him, but he was an all-around ballplayer.”
Brock excelled in the spotlight. He batted .391 (34-for-87) with 16 runs, 14 steals and 13 RBI in 21 World Series games for the Cardinals.
“He was as good as I’ve ever seen rising to the occasion,” Devine said.
Said Gibson: “When he didn’t get on base or play well, we didn’t win.”
In a column for United Press International about Brock’s election, Milton Richmond described him as “the thinking man’s ballplayer.”
“He knew almost as much about gravity and motion as Sir Isaac Newton,” wrote Richmond.
Said Brock to Hummel: “Base running arrogance is a factor which forces one out of a comfort zone … It’s not based on fear but on knowledge.”
Keith Hernandez, who joined the Cardinals as a 20-year-old first baseman in 1974, recalled Brock as a Hall of Fame person as well as a Hall of Fame player.
“He helped me more than anybody in my career,” Hernandez said to The Sporting News. “He’s one of the guys in my career that if they weren’t around at a certain stage I might not have made it … He was such a giving person.”