Before there was the internet, there was baseball, and that meant Harry Caray.
For a nine-year-old boy named Lou Brock, growing up far from town on a sharecropper farm in the Louisiana Delta, baseball on an old Philco radio was entertainment.
But it was a lifechanging moment when Caray broadcast a game between the Cardinals and Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers, the summer after Robinson broke the major leagues’ color barrier, a time when, as Brock put it, “Jim Crow was king.”
Lou Brock never forgot it. “I felt pride in being alive. The baseball field was my fantasy of what life offered.”
That quote from his obituary in The New York Times came after he had become the Hall of Fame outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, leading a floundering team back into contention and then a seven-game victory in the 1964 World Series.
Brock’s base-stealing was famous, so that when he died last weekend at 81, the newspaper could report that Brock “went on to turn around games year after year with his feet and his bat.”
This wonderful story started on the Bluff at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Brock won an academic scholarship but was noticed on the baseball field by Buck O’Neil, the longtime Negro leagues player and manager, who was scouting for the Cubs.
Brock was signed by the Cubs but in 1964 went on to the Cardinals in a trade rued for generations in the Windy City. He led the National League in steals eight times. Although Rickey Henderson would break Brock’s stolen-base records, Brock had 3,023 hits and hit .300 eight times. He helped propel the Cardinals to three pennants and two World Series championships. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
After baseball, he was a business owner in St. Louis and an instructor for the Cardinals organization.
He never forgot his roots at Southern, though, and his honors included election into Louisiana’s Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. The governor spoke at his induction ceremony, a long way from a wide spot in the road called Collinston, La.
What also should not be forgotten is that Brock got his start above all through education. As a boy in the country, he could only swat rocks with tree branches. But his one-room country schoolhouse prepared him for college in Baton Rouge where he got his big athletic break.
He will be missed.