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, has died. He was 81.
Brock starred for Southern in the late 1950s and helped the school win a 1959 national championship.
Dick Zitzmann, Brock’s longtime agent and friend, confirmed Brock’s death on Sunday, but he said he couldn’t provide any details. The Cardinals and Cubs also observed a moment of silence in the outfielder’s memory before their game at Wrigley Field.
Brock lost a leg from diabetes in recent years and was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.
“I think he led a life that will never be duplicated,” Zitzmann said.
The man later nicknamed the Running Redbird and the Base Burglar arrived to the Cards in June 1964, swapped from the Cubs for pitcher Ernie Broglio in what became one of baseball’s most lopsided trades. Along with starter Bob Gibson and center fielder Curt Flood, Brock was an anchor for St. Louis when it was a top team in the ’60s.
Brock stole 938 bases in his career, including 118 in 1974 — both of those were big league records until they were broken by Rickey Henderson.
At Southern, Brock hit .500 as a sophomore, and as a junior he helped the Jaguars to the 1959 NAIA national championship.
A native of Collinston, a tiny farm town in north Louisiana, Brock was desperate for a better life when he hitchhiked his way to Southern.
He had no scholarship and no food money, and he begged coach Bob Lee for a tryout.
"He told us he had not eaten for four or five days, and the coaches felt pity for him and said to him, 'Lad, take a swing or two,' " said Roger Cador, later a player and legendary coach at Southern. "And his swing — he had five swings to prove his worth — and he hit a couple balls out of the park, though he was weak, he had not eaten. He hit a couple balls out of the park, and the rest was history.
"They gave him a scholarship on the spot."
Years later, when Cador was a Jaguars player in the 1970s, he said Brock would stop in Baton Rouge each year on his way to Florida for spring training.
"He spent the week and taught us the finer parts of baseball," Cador said. "And I learned so much. I was like a sponge soaking up all this information that Lou Brock was teaching us, and he did it so eloquently and so lovingly. He always did it with a smile on his face."
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.”
Cador said it was the same at the end of Brock's life.
"We all expect it when you get old, and he's had his issues with illness," Cador said. "So when I talked to him about two months ago, he was the way most warriors are: They say they're doing good, when really they may not be. But that's what warriors do."
The Cards were World Series champions in 1964 and 1967 and lost to the Detroit Tigers in seven games in 1968. Opposing teams were warned to keep Brock off base, especially in the low-scoring years of 1967-68 when a single run often could win a game. But the speedy left fielder with the popup slide was a consistent base-stealing champion and run producer.
A lifetime .293 hitter, he led the league in steals eight times, scored 100 or more runs seven times and amassed 3,023 hits.
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 homered, tripled and doubled as the Cardinals trounced Detroit and 31-game winner Denny McLain 10-1.
“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 release.
"He will be deeply missed and forever remembered.”
Brock’s death came after Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver died Monday. Brock and Seaver faced each other 157 times, the most prolific matchup for both of them in their careers.
In 1985, his first year of eligibility, Brock became the first player from an HBCU inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame. He also had been the first to win a World Series.
"All of those things are historical moments," said Cador, who added that Brock later created a scholarship fund at Southern for north Louisiana students. "I took a lot of pride and understanding in that, because at some point, we are all going to die.
"But I never wanted all of the wonderful things he was part of to go away and not be recognized. Maybe people think that because you come from a historically Black college that you can't accomplish these things, and I don't want that to go away.
"Lou Brock did it, and he did it with a smile on his face."