By Nathan Tucker
Baseball Hall of Famer and Cardinals Legend Lou Brock, who passed away on September 6, 2020 at the age of 81, will always be remembered in “Cardinals Nation”. He had over 3,000 hits, and nearly 1,000 stolen bases in his storied career, the latter number being a feat that will likely never happen again.
He was known by a few nicknames for his baserunning prowess, but the “Base Burglar” and “Running Redbird” was known by teammates as one of the toughest players the game had seen.
“Toughest SOB I’ve ever seen,” said former Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst, who died in 2018 at 95.
“Never saw him in the training room,” said Tim McCarver, a Cardinals Hall of Famer and current Fox Sports Midwest commentator, to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This included Brock playing with a broken shoulder after being hit by a pitch from Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax when the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander had taken exception to Brock bunting on him.
“If Bob Gibson weren’t in the National League all those years, Lou would have been the toughest guy I ever saw, met on a baseball field. He and Bob were 1-2, as far as I was concerned,” McCarver said.
Fans, and players who might have been a bit young to actually witness Lou Brock’s greatness as it happened, might have to credit Lou for the Cardinals becoming the team they did for generations.
Sure, those Cardinals teams are obviously worse without him, but what he did on the field inspired a generation of Cardinals fans. Without his presence, perhaps “Cardinal Nation” is more of a free state.
Those years made Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst and many others legends that will live for eons, long after the old Busch Stadium they played in was demolished.
On Saturday, September 12, 2020, Lou Brock’s funeral procession stopped by Busch Stadium for a ceremony that celebrated both his playing accomplishments and his life as a whole.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum, shared a story about Brock when he was still in college at Southern University in Louisiana, terribly nervous to try out for the baseball team.
Kendrick was friends with the late Buck O’Neil, a Negro Leagues legend who worked for the Chicago Cubs as a scout, and discovered a collegiate Lou Brock.
The story, originally told by O’Neil and shared on Saturday by Kendrick, was that Brock was so nervous about the tryouts at Southern that he almost left without ever stepping foot on the diamond.
The one thing that gave him confidence was seeing a young boy playing in a game with the college players before his tryout. ‘If that kid can play with these guys, so can I’, and Brock made a promise to himself to give it his all.
He faced five pitches in the tryout that would determine his fate as a baseball player. He hit four of those five out of the ballpark.
At the end of his heartfelt remembrance, Kendrick emphasized Brock’s faith, and even left on a joke.
“It strikes me that a man who committed larceny 938 times [the amount of bases Brock stole in his career] is being welcomed into Heaven,” Kendrick said with a smile. “If he can steal that much, and get in Heaven, there is still hope.”
Lou Brock Jr. issued an emotional tribute to his father through the Post-Dispatch this past week. In that tribute he talked about the perfect marriage between his father and a baseball-crazed city.
“Growing up in St. Louis as Lou Brock, Jr. was a wonderful experience.” said the younger Brock. “Everyone says St. Louis is a baseball town, and my father absolutely was a baseball guy. What is so amazing to me is how St. Louis’ love for baseball has been honored with the likes of Jack Buck, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial and all the wonderful guys. To know my dad’s name honors the city, as well as MLB, is a gift.
“To baseball fans all over the world, thank you for your love of my dad. And thank you for all the condolences. To Cardinal nation, I will tell you one indisputable fact: He loved you just as much as you loved him. I am proud to have shared my dad with you.”
The Cardinals are honoring Brock in a number of ways throughout the remainder of this season, and likely years to come.
The team will wear a patch with his number and signature on every uniform, and the infield dirt at Busch Stadium will have Brock’s number 20 etched beyond frequent target, second base.
No matter the amount of tribute, it will never feel like enough for the man that embodied Cardinals baseball and the city of St. Louis for over half a century.