Master Thief

Lou Brock was a performance artist

2001 Fleer Greats of the Game #8 Lou Brock

This continues an informal series in homage to Joe Posnanski’s book, “The Baseball 100.”

2001 Fleer Greats of the Game

#8 Lou Brock

OF, St. Louis Cardinals

I saw Lou Brock steal a base once. It was performance art. Everyone knew he was going. The Busch Stadium organist, who played da da da da….da da da da between pitches to build suspense. The Giants’ pitcher who tried futilely to hold him close. The catcher. The crowd. The PA announcer. The hot dog vendor. People listening on radio. Everyone! A buzz filled the air as soon as Lou reached first base. Palpable. He played to the fans, holding on the first pitch, feinting on the second, building suspense as the fans clapped in rhythm. Da da da da…da da da da! The pitcher threw over once, twice, thrice, I don’t remember. It didn’t matter. After one pickoff attempt Lou took his lead, then stretched it a half step. Then boom! He was off. There was a pitch and a a throw, but it wasn’t close. Lou made it seem like Little League.

This was in 1976, when Brock swiped 56 bases — two seasons removed from his record-setting total of 118. He would wind up ranking second in career steals behind Rickey Henderson. But Like Rickey, Lou was so much more than a base thief. He was one of the best leadoff hitters of all time. Brock finished his Hall of Fame career with 3,023 hits and a .293 average. He had an even 900 RBIs.

So Lou did many things well. At one he was exceptional. A maestro. I grew up in an American League city before cable TV and inter-league play. I had watched Lou steal bases on television; I remember clips of his record-breaking 118th. Seeing him work his craft in person, though, was like attending a Rolling Stones concert in their prime versus watching it on YouTube 20 years later.

There’s a magic film can’t capture; you just had to be there. I’m grateful I was.

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