Baseball recently suffered the loss of two of its brightest stars from the 1960s and 1970s, and another piece of childhood dropped away with the deaths of Tom Seaver and Lou Brock. Both Seaver and Brock visited the Little League World Series. Seaver in 1988 and Brock in 2006. It was during Brock’s appearance in 2006 that I met him. I wrote of my encounter with Brock during that for Webb Weekly. What follows is some of what I wrote.
Lou Brock had a Hall of Fame major league career and accomplished much during that career. Still, he would have loved to have had an opportunity to learn baseball through a program such as Little League Baseball, so he told those gathered at a press conference at Howard J. Lamade Stadium on the first day of the 60th annual Little League World Series. His wife, Jacqueline, joined him.
“There wasn’t Little League in the area of Louisiana that I grew up in. I ‘saw’ my baseball on the radio by listening to games broadcast by people such as Harry Caray and other great announcers. You really had to use your imagination, but it was a great way to ‘see’ and learn baseball,” Brock said.
Brock and his wife are now ordained ministers and have a deep commitment to serving the youth of their area, the metropolitan area of St. Louis. He supports the “Diamonds in the Rough” program, an annual youth baseball essay contest sponsored by the Briggs and Stratton Company. The prize winner receives a free refurbishing of a baseball or softball field and a baseball clinic conducted by Brock and another Hall-of-Famer, Carlton Fisk.
“I think that Little League’s Urban Initiative is very consistent with the efforts that I have been making,” Brock said. “It is wonderful to see people trying to restore the game in certain areas. It restores its zest. Little League is a good training ground for young people trying to learn the game and to excel in it.”
Brock spoke with great fondness for a man he regards as a mentor and helped bring about his career, former legendary Negro League player and manager, John “Buck” O’Neil.
O’Neil worked as a scout for the Chicago Cubs when he scouted Brock as a raw, young player at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. O’Neil was most impressed by Brock’s speed, a gift that he thought couldn’t be coached. He let the Cubs know about Brock’s potential, but they waited to sign him. They almost lost him to the team that he would gain the most fame with, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Brock recounted the story of a tryout that he thought had been arranged for him in Chicago by a Cardinal scout who was supposed to watch him workout. Brock took the bus up from Louisiana and had about $10 in his pocket. It turns out that the scout got his wires crossed with Brock and was out in Oregon, scouting a pitcher named Ray Washburn, who would be one of the Cards’ standout pitchers during the 1960s.
Brock ended up staying with a friend for a while and washing floors at a YMCA, awaiting his major league tryout. O’Neill continued to press on behalf of Brock, and finally, the Cubs were impressed enough to sign him, and he ended up playing for the Cubs but became a star when he was traded in June 1964 to the Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio. Most sportswriters regard Brock as the heart and soul of the great Cardinal teams of the mid-1960s.
“I owe a lot to Buck. He was like the father I never had,” Brock said. “When Buck was the first black coach in the majors with the Cubs, I was his roommate. He taught me a great deal about life. I even named one of my sons for him.”
He said he has a deep admiration for Curt Flood, who played with him in the Cards’ outfield.
“Curt sacrificed his career to fight the system in baseball, the Reserve Clause. All of today’s players should be eternally grateful to him,” Brock said. “He made it possible for them to put their talents into the open market and to receive good compensation for it. He was a real good guy and a great baseball player.”
Brock, who threw out the first ball at the first game of the LLWS, said he would not mind coming back to the Series again and perhaps spend a little more time here. He said coming here was a great experience for him.
Lou even autographed my copy of David Halberstam’s excellent book, “October 1964,” which detailed the 1964 World Series and the exciting roads that both the Yankees and Cardinals took to reach that Series, won by the Cardinals in a hard-fought seven-game series.
Lou Brock was a class act and will be greatly missed. Baseball and sports, in general, could use more people like him.