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Hall of Famer Lou Brock, Cardinals base-stealing icon, dies at 81
7:06 PM ET
  • ESPN News Services

Hall of Famer Lou Brock, one of baseball’s signature leadoff hitters and base stealers who helped the St. Louis Cardinals win three pennants and two World Series titles in the 1960s, died Sunday at 81.

The Cardinals and Chicago Cubs observed a moment of silence in the former outfielder’s memory before their game at Wrigley Field.

“Lou Brock was one of the most revered members of the St. Louis Cardinals organization and one of the very best to ever wear the Birds on the Bat,” Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a news release.

“He will be deeply missed and forever remembered.”

Brock retired in 1979 as the single-season and all-time leader in stolen bases — marks since surpassed by Rickey Henderson. Brock was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

“Lou was an outstanding representative of our national pastime and he will be deeply missed,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in a release.

Although he showed flashes of his potential with the Cubs, Brock’s career took off after he was traded to the Cardinals on June 15, 1964. Acquired in a swap for pitcher Ernie Broglio, Brock became St. Louis’ left fielder and hit .348 with 12 homers, 44 RBIs and 33 steals in 103 games.

The Cardinals won the World Series in seven games against the New York Yankees in 1964.

Brock led the team back to the Series in 1967 and 1968. He had 12 hits in 1967, when St. Louis beat the Boston Red Sox in seven games, and had 13 hits a year later, when the Detroit Tigers took the title.

Those two years were part of a 12-season stretch starting in 1965 in which Brock averaged 65 steals and 99 runs scored, with a batting average above .300 in six of those years. He hit 21 homers and stole 52 bases in 1967, making him the first player to hit more than 20 homers with at least 50 steals in a season.

In 1974, Brock surpassed Maury Wills’ single-season mark with 118 stolen bases, and he eclipsed Ty Cobb for the career mark in 1977, finishing with 938.

Brock’s death came after Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver died Monday. Brock faced Seaver 157 times in his career. That was Brock’s most plate appearances against any pitcher, and he was the batter Seaver faced the most, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Along with starter Bob Gibson and center fielder Curt Flood, Brock was an anchor for St. Louis as its combination of speed, defense and pitching made it a top team in the ’60s and a symbol of the National League’s more aggressive style at the time in comparison to the American League.

“There are two things I will remember most about Lou,” former Cardinals teammate Ted Simmons said in a statement. “First was his vibrant smile. Whenever you were in a room with Lou, you couldn’t miss it — the biggest, brightest, most vibrant smile on earth. The other was that he was surely hurt numerous times, but never once in my life did I know he was playing hurt.”

The El Dorado, Arkansas, native ended his 19-year career with 3,023 hits, 149 homers, 900 RBIs and a .293 average.

Brock was even better in postseason play, batting .391 with four homers, 16 RBIs and 14 steals in 21 World Series games. He had a record-tying 13 hits in the 1968 World Series, and in Game 4, he homered, tripled and doubled as the Cardinals trounced Detroit and 31-game winner Denny McLain 10-1.

Brock never played in another World Series after 1968, but he remained a star for much of the final 11 years of his career.

He was so synonymous with base-stealing that in 1978 he became the first major leaguer to have an award named for him while still active: the Lou Brock Award, for the National League’s leader in steals. For Brock, base-stealing was an art form and a kind of warfare. He was among the first players to study films of opposing pitchers and, once on base, relied on skill and psychology.

In his 1976 memoir, “Lou Brock: Stealing is My Game,” he explained his success. Take a “modest lead” and “stand perfectly still.” The pitcher was obligated to move, if only “to deliver the pitch.” “Furthermore, he has two things on his mind: the batter and me,” Brock wrote. “I have only one thing in mind — to steal off him. The very business of disconcerting him is marvelously complex.”

Brock closed out his career in 1979 by batting .304, making his sixth All-Star Game appearance and winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. The Cardinals retired his uniform number, 20, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985.

The soft-spoken Brock was determined, no matter the score, and sometimes angered opponents and teammates by stealing even when the Cards were far ahead.

He also made two damaging mistakes that helped cost St. Louis the 1968 World Series.

In Game 5, with the Cards up 3-2 in the top of the fifth and leading the Series 3-1, Brock doubled with one out and seemed certain to score when Julian Javier lined a single to left. But Brock never attempted to slide, and left fielder Willie Horton’s strong throw arrived in time for catcher Bill Freehan to tag him out.

The Tigers were among many who cited that moment as a turning point. They rallied to win 5-3 in Game 5 and take the final two in St. Louis. In Game 7, won by Detroit 4-1, Brock made another critical lapse: He was picked off first by the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich after singling to lead off the sixth inning, when there was no score.

After his playing career was over, Brock worked as a florist and a commentator for ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball” and was a regular for the Cards at spring training. He served as a part-time instructor while remaining an autograph favorite for fans, some of them wearing Brock-a-brellas, a hat with an umbrella top that he designed.

“Our hearts are a little heavy for the passing of Lou, but we know he’s in a better place,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.

Brock was a nominal churchgoer since childhood, but his faith deepened after he endured personal struggles in the 1980s, and he and his third wife, Jacky, became ordained ministers, serving at Abundant Life Fellowship Church in St. Louis. He spoke of having a “Holy Ghost-Filled Alarm Clock” whenever tempted to resume his previous ways.

“Your old lifestyle’s not going away; it’s going to be around you for a long time. But you’ll find it has no room to enter,” he once told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Brock was married three times and had three children, among them Lou Brock Jr., a former NFL cornerback and safety.

The seventh of nine children, Lou Brock was born in Arkansas and grew up in a four-bedroom house in rural Collinston, Louisiana. His introduction to baseball came by accident. Brock spat on a teacher and for punishment had to write a book report about baseball, presumably to teach him about life beyond Collinston.

A star athlete in high school, he was accepted into Southern University on a work-study scholarship and nearly failed but remained with the college when a baseball tryout led to an athletic scholarship. Brock signed with the Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1960, made his major league debut late the following season and was in the starting lineup by 1962.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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