As a businessman and a celebrity, Lou Brock accepts it as inevitable that he, an expert at marketing products, should himself become a product expertly marketed. Still, being both a salesman and for sale does lead to some confusion of roles. Here, on the office blower to some far-flung operative, is L. C. Brock, president of Lu-Wan Enterprises, Inc. of St. Louis:
"Going back to Pepsi, what did Pepsi say?" Pause for a tiny metallic voice on the other end of the line. "No, nobody in New York is authorized to negotiate on my behalf.... What's that? How many?" With a fingernail file, L. C. Brock taps out some computations on his wrist-watch-calculator. "Well, they should be happy. They've got 200 dozen. They're looking at total dollars without realizing what the cost is.... Let me get a recap here...."
And here is Richman Bry, round-faced, fast-talking president of Bry & Associates, Ltd. of St. Louis, whose job it is to sell Lou Brock, star base stealer of the St. Louis Cardinals, to the lords of the media and high commerce. Base stealer Brock sits with his hands folded as Bry says, "We are looking to uncover any area that will be productive for Lou. We will not make an exclusive deal with any company until we can be sure we have the right association, like the one O.J. has with Hertz. We see Lou becoming the exclusive spokesman for a major business. That's the best kind of deal, one that involves the athlete totally. After he breaks the record, we see posters and T shirts with his name on them."
The record Bry has in mind is one that, until very recently, was considered unassailable—Ty Cobb's career total of 892 stolen bases. Although Brock is now 38 and slower afoot than he once was, sometime in the next few weeks he should crack this hoary standard (at the end of last week he needed only six steals to do so), thereby unleashing what Bry gleefully envisions as a veritable cornucopia of lucrative business opportunities, surpassing even those that attended Henry Aaron's succession to the Sultanate of Swat three years ago. Brock is not ordinarily a seeker of undue attention, but he realizes that he is embarked on a historic adventure and he accepts its conditions—including a personal-appearance schedule that rivals Billy Carter's—with characteristic good humor and philosophic detachment.
"Sure, I feel like a piece of property," says Brock, "but I have control over what happens to me. It doesn't bother me. We're all promoters in a way. I haven't seen a guy in this game yet who didn't promote himself. And this is only going to happen once in my life. It is the challenge of the moment."
Cobb's lifetime total is virtually the only major stolen-base record Brock does not already possess. He is the National League career leader. Three years ago, amid a hullabaloo comparable to the one he now anticipates, he stole 118 bases, thereby exceeding Maury Wills' single-season record of 104, which in turn had exceeded Cobb's 96. Brock is tied with Hall of Famer Eddie Collins with 14 steals in the World Series, but it took Collins 34 games to get his, while Brock required only 21. He has stolen 50 or more bases in a season 12 times, and in successive years—both major league records. And now he is bearing down on Cobb, a man who, aside from a rural Southern upbringing and a passion for commerce (he got rich on Coca-Cola stock), had even less in common with Brock than the sybaritic Ruth had with the circumspect Aaron. Cobb was everything Brock is not—a racist, a truculent, profane, suspicious, humorless bully, of whom it was said by Al Stump, who collaborated with Cobb on his autobiography, "He was the most violent, successful, thoroughly maladjusted personality ever to pass across American sports." Cobb's teammate Sam Crawford once tried mightily to say something nice about him, but the best he could do was grumble, "He sure wasn't easy to get along with. He wasn't a friendly, good-natured guy." Even Mike Marshall is a charmer in comparison. Brock is a saint. "Lou is one of the nicest, finest men ever to play this game," says his teammate and fellow star Ted Simmons.
Indeed, Brock's amiability is almost as legendary as Cobb's irascibility. He always makes himself available. He is a frequent speaker at public functions, a willing promoter of his team and an eager participant, both personally and financially, in charitable projects, such as the Lou Brock Boys Club. He is available for interviews not only to media stars, but also to youngsters from small-town weeklies and to college kids with tape recorders. His responses to questions are invariably lively, thoughtful, sometimes even surprising. Interviewed before a recent game by one Dick Pryor of station KNOR in Norman, Okla., Brock chattered on so informatively and at such length on the Oklahoma Sooners' prospects for the coming football season that Pryor finally had to intervene and request that he say a little something about himself. A broadcaster from WSIU, the campus radio station at Southern Illinois University, approached Brock during batting practice one day last month. Agreeable as ever, Brock interrupted his swings as the young man thrust a microphone before him. "Lou," he began with abrupt familiarity, "you've been asked a thousand questions. Is there one you've always wanted to be asked that you haven't?" Brock smiled. "I've been asked that question," he said.
In the clubhouse, where what passes for polite discourse would embarrass a career noncom in the Marine Corps, Brock is rarely heard to say anything more scabrous than "Oh, gosh." If he has a rhetorical weakness it is for the bromides of the boardroom. He favors such expressions as: "Back to the drawing board" and "We'll have to examine the whole spectrum and channel our resources." He "finalizes" things and "subjects" them to "analysis." He deals in "concepts" and is convinced that one thing is almost always "predicated" on another. He has a particular affection for syntactical doubling up, sometimes to the point of redundancy. People are "defiant-and-aggressive," brimming with "ambition-and-purpose," in search of "fulfillment-and-enjoyment," blessed with "pride-and-self-esteem," and haunted by "wishes-and-desires."
His extensive involvement in the business world would seem to account for this lamentable jargon. Lu-Wan (named for his children—Lou Jr., 13, and Wanda, 15) is principally involved in the marketing of an umbrella hat called the BroccaBrella. That is not a misspelling, because, according to Brock, the hat is not named for him. "We just thought BroccaBrella had a nice lilt to it," he says. A BroccaBrella is a headband from which a miniature umbrella springs. It looks just absurd enough to have genuine fad potential, a phenomenon Lu-Wan patiently awaits. "We have taken a concept that first appeared in 1879," says Brock, employing executive-suite patois, "and we've spent two years researching and redesigning it. We've created a need for it and a new kind of general distribution." The hat, he says, is designed to protect its wearer from extensive exposure to the sun, and it is also useful in the event of unexpected showers. Fishermen use BroccaBrellas, Brock says, so do occupants of the bleachers. Those who wear it look like coolies with a flair for color. Lu-Wan also envisions such BroccaBrella spin-offs as T shirts and matching sport shirts. A whole new industry could flourish under the hat. "It's the umbrella concept," Brock says inadvertently. He laughs. "Oh, gosh...."
The BroccaBrella is not Brock's only business interest. He is a consultant for the Converse Rubber Corp., makers of a sneaker called the Player 118 L-T (for lateral traction), which Brock developed. He acts also as a consultant for Bry & Associates, recruiting new clients by interesting athletes in Bry's "personal management concept." And he owns a florist shop and a sporting-goods store. Anyone who spends as much time as he does with advertising men and junior executives may be forgiven if his associates' jargon creeps into his own delivery. Besides, Brock does not talk that way all the time. In fact, he is usually quite particular about language. If a word escapes him, he will pause until it returns, filling in the gap with the complaint, "Now, what is that word I want?" When discussing base stealing, his language seems more indebted to computer science than to business. He is as technical on this topic as might be expected of one who has spent years putting the stopwatch and the movie camera to his adversaries, the pitchers and catchers.
"About as quickly as a pitcher can throw to his catcher and have his catcher throw to second is 2.9 seconds," says Brock. "I know I can get to second in 3.4 seconds or less. I am daring them to make that play in 2.9 and be on target. I know I'll always be there in my 3.3 to 3.4. I can't outrun the ball, but a catcher can't throw it until he gets it. That 2.9 is predicated on a fastball. A breaking pitch, especially a sinker, increases the runner's advantage. I use a straightforward, pop-up slide—nothing fancy. My theory is not like Maury Wills'. He believed in taking a maximum lead. I don't. With a big lead, you have to be just as concerned with getting back to first as with getting to second. And if there is a throw to first, you must dive back into the bag. I refuse to dive back. It has to do with wear and tear on the body. The diving takes its toll, and who wants to be beaten up by some big first baseman? Willie McCovey hit me on the head with a tag once that had me seeing stars for three days. With a shorter lead, I have to run 80 to 82 feet to reach second. Maury would run 75 feet. But he used the hook slide. He'd go three feet past the bag and catch it with his back foot. With my straight-in slide, I make up the distance I lose with the shorter lead. Everything revolves around acceleration, reflexes based on repetition. I use body language. By taking a shorter lead and looking relaxed, my body is telling the pitcher I'm not going to run. Standing there, relaxed, upright, I'm causing doubts. All people who sprint start from a low position. The pitcher associates a low stance with running. He's conditioned to believe it's impossible to run from a straight-up position. I do. Of course, now they all assume I'm running no matter what I look like."
Brock's angelic disposition is disrupted by only a few of life's irritations, chief of which are the perpetuation of his reputation as a poor fielder, his not being voted the Most Valuable Player after his record-breaking 1974 season and the unwritten canon of baseball etiquette that holds that stealing bases when the thief's team is well ahead is not only bad form but the act of an unrepentant self-aggrandizer.
"Before 1920 the whole game was based on running," says Brock. "After that, the attitude was 'Why run? We'll get the long ball to knock you home.' There seemed to be a gentlemen's agreement not to run. Well, I didn't agree to it. And I've paid a price for it. I've been sucker-punched in fights on the field, and I've taken more knockdown pitches than I like to think about. Oh, I've heard all the criticism, too. You know, I'm out there just to build up my own stats. But that attitude is changing. Now running is totally acceptable. Everybody does it. The bigger ball parks have changed all this. The ball parks and the success the Dodgers and we had with our running teams in the '60s. I also found pitchers who would fight for me—Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. They're the kind who would say, 'Do anything you want as long as you're scoring runs.' "
Brock insists that he was not bitter about losing the MVP award to Steve Garvey in '74. He merely felt that the voters didn't fully comprehend the impact of the stolen base, its capacity for unhinging a defense and demoralizing a pitcher and catcher whose "pride-and-reputation" had been attacked. "I felt I earned the award that year," says Brock. "That's all there is to it." He might also have added that he was 35 then and fairly certain he would never get another chance at the honor.
As to his fielding, he says, "When I came up I was labeled as a guy who had problems in the outfield. You never get past that label. But I'll ask myself, as a test, 'If a team had one ball to catch, who would it want out there?' Ninety-nine percent of the time I come up with myself as an answer." Brock still absorbs some good-natured needling over his supposed defensive deficiencies. Bill White, a former teammate and now a broadcaster, cornered him before a game in June with the Pirates. "I remember the time you caught a ball in left centerfield and thought you could double a guy off first," said White, smiling maliciously. Brock winced. "I couldn't believe my eyes. Here you are, 350 feet away and trying to throw some guy out. I said to myself, 'Either this guy is the best outfielder in the world or he's sure as hell the worst.' "
"I thought it was a good play," said Brock meekly.
Louis Clark Brock was born in El Dorado, Ark. and reared in nearby Collinston, La. "It was a farm community, in the heart of what you might call the Bible Belt," Brock says. "Playing baseball on Sunday was considered taboo. We had one stoplight, a blinker. There was a general store, a post office, a saloon, a café, a drugstore and, of course, a jailhouse. That was downtown. There was no doctor's office and no law office. City Hall was in the jailhouse. But the street was paved and we did have telephones. People sat outside on the porches of the old wooden houses in rocking chairs. Our house was typical of down there—a four-room shack with a porch and a swing."
Brock recalled his rural childhood while driving to the Lu-Wan offices in his cardinal-colored Stutz Blackhawk, an auto that can cost as much as $120,000. Telly Savalas has one, Brock says. So do Dean Martin and Evel Knievel. Elvis Presley has four or five. The Stutz has a paneled dashboard that recalls Captain Nemo's bridge in the Nautilus. Solid gold door handles are one of the options. It is a chariot worthy of a man of stature, which Brock indubitably is. His friends estimate that, with his baseball wages and the earnings from his myriad business enterprises, his annual income approaches half a million dollars. Brock sank back into the lush upholstery as he drove and recalled less affluent times:
"My mom and father split up when I was two. By the time he and I got acquainted, I was in the big leagues. My mom married three times and had kids each time, nine altogether. I was in the second group. Mom did domestic work, and we farmed—cotton, corn, beans, hogs, cows, the works. In our town the blacks all lived in clusters, but the whites were always nearby. There was one big house in town, the rich people's.
"I didn't know what it was like anywhere else. I had lots of fun. We played our games, blacks and whites together. Only later, in junior high and high school, did I notice a change in attitude. It's the same in cities today. My son has felt this change. He can't understand it. Except in his case, we're talking about 1977, not the late '40s in Louisiana."
The mighty car pulled into the driveway outside the Lu-Wan building, a single-story structure with warehouse attached. Brock entered swiftly, wishing his all-female office staff a pleasant good morning. He was wearing a sport shirt and slacks, in deference to the St. Louis humidity. On the road, he is more often seen in three-piece suits or expensively tailored sport coats. He is a dapper man. All of Brock's office workers are former schoolteachers, including his second wife, Virgie, who is the company controller. It pleases him to be in the company of such erudition. Virgie and he were married last November, nearly three years after his divorce from his first wife, a college sweetheart.
Brock's private office is small and neat. There are maps on the walls perforated by pins indicating cities where BroccaBrella sales are booming. Several of the funny hats sprout from the walls like giant mushrooms. Behind his desk, Brock instantly assumed a worried expression. He shuffled comically through sheaves of papers in futile search for a lost document. He called in one of the women. "There was a letter here that is supposed to go out to Canada today. Got any idea what happened to it?" he asked. "Yes, I gave it to you," she answered. Brock slapped his hand on his forehead. "It figures. Everything gets lost around here as soon as I walk in." He abandoned the search, apparently secure in the belief that the misplaced missive would reappear.
"I was up in age, about 13, before I really started playing baseball," he said. "But I got interested before that. It happened this way. I was kind of a mischievous kid in school. So this one day I fired a spitwad at this girl in front of me. It missed and—you guessed it—hit the teacher. The punishment was for me to look up something on some of the great names in sports then—Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe—and give a report on them in class. The idea was to get me more aware of what was happening in the world. Well, what was happening in my life was the sun coming out every day. But I got hold of some magazines and began reading about those sports heroes, and I really got interested. The most intriguing thing to me was that big league players got $8 a day for meal money. All I could think of was of how much penny candy that would buy. Giving that report was one of the hardest things I had to do, even if it was only a one-room schoolhouse. The other kids were snickering and calling me teacher's pet, which I was trying hard not to be. But I got through it. And I got interested in baseball."
Virgie and Lou Jr. entered Brock's office, stomping wet feet on the floor. The steamy St. Louis summer air had finally metamorphosed into a hard, insistent rain. Virgie's head had been protected from the storm by a BroccaBrella, young Lou's by a blue newsboy's cap. She is a tall lovely woman, quick-witted and cheerful. The boy has the cocky air of a successful young athlete, which he already is in both basketball and baseball. Unlike his father, he is right-handed, a shortstop. "More important," his father said, "he's good in the classroom." A chip off the old Brock.
"I was always academically oriented," Brock said. "It was a matter of pride-and-self-esteem. You don't want to be the dumbest kid in school. Not the smartest, necessarily, but not the dumbest. It was a competitive thing. I wanted to be able to hold my own in a crowd. At my high school, Union High in Mer Rouge, La., I'd represent the school in math and science competition, as well as in baseball. All through high school we were in the state finals in math and chemistry—for black schools. We'd be champions in both science and baseball. I got a partial academic scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge. Math was my major. But I lost my scholarship after the first semester. And with that went some jobs I'd had on campus. I was poor and I wasn't eating too well, but I went out for the baseball team in my second semester. I couldn't get the coach to notice me, to give me a chance at bat. All he had me doing was chasing fly balls. Finally, after running around all afternoon in the hot sun, I just fell from exhaustion. That was one way of getting noticed. They gathered around me, giving me smelling salts, the whole thing. I came to and rested a little, and as a goodwill gesture, the coach let me hit. I took five swings and hit four balls out of the park. Then they asked me my name and where I was from, all the things I was prepared to answer a month before.
"I made the starting lineup as a freshman and got an athletic scholarship my second year. All I really wanted to do was stay in school. When I was a sophomore, the scouts discovered me. Actually, they were looking at a pitcher named Johnny Berry from Wiley College. He pitched against us in our next-to-last game. Had a no-hitter going into the ninth and was leading 1-0. Then I hit a homer to tie it up. He gave up only one more hit—another homer by me in the 11th to win the game. I was sporting a .500 average at the time, and the scouts started to ask themselves who this kid was. Oh, gosh, those are the moments."
In 1959 Brock got his first taste of big-time athletics, playing for the U.S. baseball team at the Pan-American Games in Chicago. "Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were on that team in basketball; Charlie Dumas, the high jumper, was there; and Rico Carty and Juan Marichal in baseball," he says. "And a kid named Cassius Clay was hanging around. He was a kind of a little squirt then, only 17, barely a light-heavy. I was probably heavier than he was then. Well, this one day he saw me carrying some heavy bags, and I guess my muscles were popping out from the strain. He made some smart remark, and I dropped the bags and said something like, 'Try me.' I'm glad he never accepted that invitation. We're good friends now."
The athlete who had the most influence on Brock at those games was a track man, Charles (Deacon) Jones of Iowa. It was he who suggested that the young ballplayer might improve his raw speed with a little technique. Later, when Brock was a rookie with the Cubs and, with Jones, a "token" salesman for the Humble Oil Co., the two worked out regularly at the University of Chicago track. Occasionally they were joined by another man who knew something about running, Jesse Owens. The economy of motion that characterizes Brock on the bases is directly attributable to the coaching of Jones and Owens.
Brock dropped out of college after his junior year to sign with the Cubs, who offered him a bonus of about $30,000 to be spread over several years. It was a critical decision for a youth who had struggled manfully to get his education. "I went to college to upgrade my standard of living," he says. "When I got to be a junior, I knew I was either going to become a professional person or a professional athlete. I was 21 years old when I dropped out. Sports, I decided, was a young man's game, so I took the chance. I knew I had something to fall back on. I had only one year to go in school, so if I fell flat on my face in baseball, the other was still attainable."
Brock spent only a year in the minor leagues, hitting .361 and stealing 38 bases for the Cubs' farm team in St. Cloud, Minn. He was a regular on the big team in 1962, his first full season in the major leagues. But he was not particularly happy. He then considered himself a free-swinging power hitter, an opinion given some credence by a mammoth home run he hit into the right center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds, a distant territory previously reached only by mighty men such as Joe Adcock. But Brock was a slender, if steely muscled, 172-pounder, and the Cubs saw him as a choke-hitting leadoff man, someone to get on base ahead of their power hitters—Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo. Swinging from the end of the bat, Brock struck out too often for management's taste. He whiffed 96 times in 434 at bats in 1962, and 122 in 547 appearances the following year. There was also the sorry business of his fielding. "Brock double dribbles everything hit his way," Gene Mauch, then the manager of the Phillies, said. And he had not yet begun to steal. If the Cubs did not openly discourage the running game, they at least held it subordinate to the long ball. In two full seasons in Chicago, Brock stole only 40 bases, a figure he would routinely achieve by August in later years.
The Cubs and their young outfielder were approaching mutual despair when, on June 15, 1964, the trade that shall live in infamy for Cub fans was made. Chicago decided it needed a winning pitcher more than a discontented strikeout artist in the outfield. The Cardinals needed a left-handed-hitting outfielder with speed. So the Cards gave up Ernie Broglio (a 21-game winner in 1960 and an 18-game winner in 1963), the aged lefthander Bobby Shantz and Outfielder Doug Clemons to acquire Brock and Pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth. At the time it seemed that the Cubs got much the better of the trade. Brock himself even says so. "The Cubs got a 20-game winner for a guy with a tag reading 'maybe.' And Clemons was my age and hitting just as well. There was no proof that either Clemons or I would come around, so anytime you can get a bona fide winning pitcher for a guy who hasn't done much, it looks like a good deal."
Even the Cardinals' proud general manager, Bing Devine, concedes that there was an element of chance involved. Brock had hit .263 and .258 in two seasons as a Cub and was hitting .251 at the time of the trade. When a fan heckled Devine about the deal, he turned to an aide and muttered, "Yes, why did we make that trade?" He hesitates even now to bask in the reflection of his own brilliance. "It's the biggest trade I've ever made," he says. "It received the worst reviews and turned out the best. A lot of people think general managers make these deals from some ivory tower. But they're never made without the opinion of all of your topflight people. In the Brock case, Johnny Keane, our manager then, was the key man. Talking to him on the way to Houston after a dismal series in L.A., I told him I had a chance to trade Broglio for Brock. He said, 'What are you waiting for?' We both liked Brock's speed and, I might add, his power. After all, he'd hit that home run in the Polo Grounds. But we had no way of knowing then that he'd become one of the alltime record breakers, a Cardinal in a class with Bob Gibson and Stan Musial. I remember when Musial was coming up, all I said at the time was, 'Yes, he does have a nice swing.' "
Depending upon one's allegiance, the Brock-Broglio trade qualifies as one of the best or the worst in history. Broglio almost immediately developed a sore arm. He won only seven games for the Cubs—while losing 19—before his major league career ended two seasons after the trade. Clemons, Brock's contemporary and presumed equal, developed into a steady .248 hitter. Brock hit .346 as a Cardinal for the remainder of the 1964 season and stole 33 bases. With him as a spark, the Cards won the National League pennant and defeated the Yankees, four games to three, in the World Series. Brock hit an even .300 in the Series. The Cards won another world's championship in 1967, with Brock hitting .414 and stealing seven bases against the Red Sox. They repeated as pennant winners in 1968, but lost in the Series to superior Detroit pitching. Not that the pitching seemed superior to Brock. He hit .464 and matched his '67 stolen-base total.
In seven of his 13 years as a Cardinal, Brock has hit better than .300, and he batted .299 in 1967, .298 in 1969 and .297 in 1973. Of the 865 stolen bases he had entering this season, 815 were accumulated as a Cardinal. In St. Louis he became a more polished outfielder, a hitter with a lifetime average just under .300 and the most prolific base stealer of all time. Before he retires, he should also join the exclusive company of players with 3,000 or more hits. As of last week, he had 2,797. There seems little question he will be elected to the Hall of Fame. Assessing his achievements, Brock simply says, "I'm satisfied. And the Cardinals have been the beneficiaries of a good career." You might say that.
At 38, Brock no longer steals bases with the insolent ease of past seasons. Once a 3.4-second runner from home to first—3.1 on a drag bunt—he is now a 3.9 man, which, in his judgment, puts him "just ahead of the crowd." For stealing bases he relies now more on "deception-and-finesse," reaching into a bag of tricks that includes shouting, "There he goes," at unsuspecting catchers on occasions when he has no intention of running. Brock had a remarkable .765 stolen-base percentage for 1,131 attempts entering this season, but he is stealing at only slightly better than .500 this year. As if his own declining speed were not handicap enough, Brock is convinced, conceding mild paranoia, that "there is a concentrated effort by the opposition to stop me." Catchers, he feels, are calling more pitchouts, and the pitchers, diabolical as ever, have uncorked a relatively new weapon, the "pitchout pitch," a fastball delivered quickly in the strike zone that can lead to a strike call on the hitter and a caught-stealing for Brock. The pitch can also backfire, because the pitcher, throwing with little motion, cannot put genuine fastball speed on the ball. The discriminating hitter will see it as too fat to pass up. And because of the quick wind-up, Brock is not apt to be running.
The pursuit of Wills' record was a much more strenuous exercise for Brock than catching Cobb. But Cobb's record is nonetheless elusive. "I can't relate this to '74 and the Wills thing," Brock says. "There is no framework of time as there always is in a single-season record. This is more like Aaron passing Ruth. It doesn't have to be done right away." And yet the minutes on his calculator-watch tick away. "As you decline in speed, as time goes on, no matter how smart you've become, you have to be on a collision course with reality. You never know when you'll collide. People will say to me, 'Oh, if you don't get the record this year, you'll get it next.' But next year I might be like a 10-year-old horse trying to win the Kentucky Derby. The speed just won't be there. And what purpose would it serve to get thrown out 50 times to steal 20 bases? That would cheapen the record, take the pride of it away. No, time is not on my side. But that's the motivating factor, the challenge of the moment. Can you beat time with a sustained, concentrated effort?"
Brock does not look old. His hair is perceptibly graying at the temples, but his weight has remained constant and his slim body is as hard and muscular as ever, particularly in the arms and legs. However, the erosion is there beneath the surface. By tacit agreement with Manager Vern Rapp, he plays fewer games now, accepting his semiregular status with equanimity. When Garry Templeton, the Cardinals' brilliant young shortstop and a Brock protégé, suffered an arm injury recently, after being hit with a pitch, Brock chided him, "Tonight you'll sit with the old man on the bench."
There is something incongruous about Brock, the business executive, immaculate in his three-piece suits, appearing in the post-adolescent atmosphere of the baseball clubhouse after a hard day at the office. He seems more like a representative from the commissioner's office than one of the boys. But he becomes a different man once he dons his uniform. When he reaches base and gingerly leads off a few strides—three and a half, to be precise—toward second, his eyes fastened on the pitcher, his hands fiddling with his waistband, his posture nearly erect, one senses what a force he is. He creates tension everywhere, on the field and in the stands. Something is about to happen. When Brock is on base in Busch Stadium, the fans set up a locomotive yell, "Lou-Lou-Lou," that would do credit to a Big Ten cheering section. And on the outfield fence adjoining the two foul poles, banners hang that read LOU BROCK COBB COUNTDOWN and LOU-LOU-LOU.
Brock is a presence, and though he seems comfortable in his celebrity, he is also slightly bemused by it. Minutes before the start of a game against the Pirates, he stared up at swarming fans in the stands, as if seeing them for the first time. His businessman's mind seemed to compute their numbers. Then with some wonder in his voice, he remarked to teammate Ken Reitz, "Look at all those people out here just to see a ball game. It makes you feel as if you're in a zoo." Reitz looked at him incredulously.
Before a Cardinal game, two silver-haired men were talking baseball in the Equitable Building bar, a block from Busch Stadium. As is usual with fans of a certain age, their memory was keen in regard to players of 20, 30, even 40 or more years ago, but woefully deficient on some of the newer fellows. For the life of them, they could not recall the name of a Cardinal reliever of only a few years back. Finally, in exasperation, the one behind the gin on the rocks bellowed, "Damn it, I can't think of this guy's name, but I can give you the entire lineup of the 1927 Yankees." And he started to do just that: "Gehrig, Ruth, Meusel, Lazzeri...." The bartender interrupted the recitation while placing a fresh drink before the expert.
"Why go through all that," he advised his customer. "There's only one ballplayer around now whose name is worth remembering."
"Yeah, and who's that?"
All three nodded in agreement.