A friend I never met
June 15, 1964, probably won’t ring any bells for you. Shoot, half of today’s world wasn’t even born at the time. President Lyndon Johnson was raving about something he called The Great Society. The ongoing crisis in Vietnam was beginning to raise some serious eyebrows but no real protests. And the Beatles had pushed Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and even Elvis right off the charts.
I was seventeen years old; and nowhere near ready for my senior year—or life afterwards.
It was the summer the swimming pool where I had worked since birth closed. I was temporarily unemployed and completely out of money. I had a girlfriend who wanted to go dancing every weekend, didn’t like baseball, demanded I use some kind of fancy smelling cologne called Russian Leather and would near ’bout faint if I showed up at her house wearing Levi’s.
Even worse, Stan Musial had retired the year before and my beloved St. Louis Cardinals were floundering around the National League like a chicken with its head cut off!
Life wasn’t like it was supposed to be.
I was existing…. more than living.
My doldrums had doldrums.
Listen people, this was the summer of my youth. Hollywood makes movies about such times! It should have been fields of clover, moonlit hayrides, cruising Main Street with the top down, malted shakes at the local drugstore with a Doris Day look-a-like who didn’t care how you smelled…..
I’m telling you, I couldn’t catch a break.
On June 15, 1964, Bing Devine, the general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals traded Ernie Broglio to the Chicago Cubs for Lou Brock.
Broglio was one of the best pitchers we had. I’d never heard of Lou Brock. Unbelievable! A bad summer took another downward turn.
But not for long! Brock donned that Cardinal uniform and went to hitting. And running! Johnny Keane, our manager, put him in the leadoff spot and let him play. And, boy howdy, did he ever play! He single-handedly ignited the team!
The whole world knows the rest of the story. The Cards, behind Brock, won the National League pennant on the last day of the season and went on to defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
He led the Cards to two more Pennants and another World Series victory. Lou Brock played 19 years in the big leagues. He had over 3,000 hits, drove in 900 runs and retired as the all-time leading base stealer, eclipsing Ty Cobb’s record that had stood for 51 years!
He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985. His playing ability, by all accounts, was only surpassed by his gentlemanly behavior and genuine friendship for all mankind.
Lou Brock passed away last week. He was 81 years old.
I cried like a baby.
And it all goes back to 1964. Lou Brock didn’t only spark a baseball team that magical summer. He managed to transcend the game and reach into a heart.
He woke me up! And lifted my self-imposed load.
I didn’t say the words out loud; hope, possibility, expectation, opportunity…but I started living them! The world seemed a bit brighter when the Cardinals were winning. Food tasted better. Your brothers didn’t annoy you as much. Your parents even made sense at times.
I was playing that summer for an American Legion team in Paris. I started hitting the ball with a new passion. I ran the bases with reckless abandon. I showed up early and stayed late. I enjoyed baseball, and life, like never before! If Lou could do it, why couldn’t I……
I awoke each day knowing it was going to be a good day for the Cards….and for me! Tommy Hill gave me a job at his service station. Money wasn’t pouring in but I could afford a cask of Russian Leather.
Which I was not going to need much longer….. My girlfriend called out of the blue to tell me if I went to play baseball in Paris Saturday night instead of taking her to the dance in Lexington she was never going to speak to me again.
It took a half of a second to decide what Lou would do. I got three hits, drove in several runs and stole second twice. And as I was gathering up my hat and glove after the game the prettiest girl in Paris, Tennessee—who actually did look like Doris Day—caught up with me and asked if I’d like to share a malted shake with her.
Thank you, Mr. Brock, for everything….