COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Lou Brock was known by many as “the one that got away.” Whether it was by opposing catchers, opposing pitchers or Chicago Cubs fans, the tag became associated with the Hall of Famer throughout his 19-year career.
On Aug. 29, 1977 – 35 years ago this week – the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder again lived up to that billing when he stole his 893rd base to break Ty Cobb’s all-time record. Brock’s stolen base surpassed a mark that was untouched for nearly half a century.
The 38-year-old Brock did more than inch past Cobb’s mark. When he retired in 1979, Brock hung up his cleats with 938 stolen bases. Ironically, Hall of Fame outfielder Rickey Henderson began his Major League career in that 1979 season and later went on to break Brock’s record.
While Brock etched his way into the record books on the base paths, he took care of business at the plate as well. Brock finished his career with 3,023 hits and became the 13th player to join the exclusive 3,000-hit club. On eight different occasions, Brock surpassed the .300 mark at season’s end to help anchor the Cardinals’ leadoff spot.
"Lou Brock, along with Maury Wills, are probably the two players most responsible for the biggest change in the game over the last 15 years," said Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver.
But before he wreaked havoc on National League pitchers and catchers, Brock was just outfielder working to keep his starting spot. In the midst of his third full season with the Cubs, Brock was hitting .257 for a squad that had three future Hall of Famers in Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams.
The Cubs traded the 24-year-old Brock to the Cardinals in 1964 along with Paul Spring and Jack Toth for Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens.
“When I joined (the Cardinals), I got the feeling everybody on it was looking at me and saying, ‘How the heck can a .250 hitter help this club?’” Brock said. “I looked at their faces and saw it. And it gave me the initiative, the boost I needed.”
The rest is history.
The deadline deal went down as one of the most lopsided in baseball history after Brock’s career took off in St. Louis. Brock helped the Cardinals past the New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series. Three years after the trade, he took home World Series MVP honors after leading the Cardinals over the Boston Red Sox in the 1967 Fall Classic.
From 1965-76, Brock finished with at least 50 stolen bases every season, including a record breaking 118 swipes as a 35-year-old in 1974.
“If Brock were 25 when he set the record, I wouldn’t have been surprised -- but at 35 it has to be amazing,” said Brock’s former teammate Dal Maxvill.
He led the majors in stolen bases on eight different occasions and averaged 65 steals per season during the 12-year stretch. Brock was rewarded for his prowess on the base paths when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985. A revolutionary approach to stealing bases earned Brock a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.
“A player like Brock comes along once in a generation – if that often,” said Brock’s former teammate and manager Ken Boyer. “We’ll replace him, but it won’t be easy.”
Connor O’Gara was the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development