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Hall of Famer visits Little Rock

March 7, 2012

Hall of Famer and former St. Louis Cardinals’ great Lou Brock speaks to a packed house at the Clinton Library in Little Rock on Friday before the Cardiinals exhibit was officially opened on Saturday. The exhibit Play Ball: The St. Louis Cardinals runs through Sept. 16. Tony Lenahan/Courier

LITTLE ROCK – It’s not every day that a first-ballot baseball Hall-of Famer visits your state to talk about old times, but that’s what happened this past Friday evening at the Clinton Library in Little Rock. St. Louis Cardinals great and National League all-time stolen base leader Lou Brock opened the Clinton Library’s St. Louis Cardinals exhibit which officially opened on Saturday. The exhibit is called Play Ball! The St. Louis Cardinals and features the 2006 and 2011 World Series trophies among a variety of other vintage Cardinals’ memorabilia, and runs through Sept. 16.

Brock spoke for close to an hour in front of a packed room of about 500 people about his time with the Cardinals and even about the 2011 World Series in which St. Louis defeated the Texas Rangers in seven exciting games, especially Game 6 when third baseman David Freese kept the Cardinals in it with a game-tying triple in the ninth inning and a dramatic home run to dead center field in the 11th.

Born in El Dorado, Ark., Brock was raised in Louisiana and began his career with the Chicago Cubs before being traded to the Cardinals in 1964, where he hit .348 in 103 games after hitting .251 for the Cubs in that year. Brock finished his career with 3,023 hits, 1,610 runs, 900 RBIs, a .293 average and still holds the National League record with 938 stolen bases, including 118 steals in 1974 at age 35. Brock spoke of his time before he became a Cardinal.

“When I was a Cub playing the Cardinals, the one thing you had to remember playing St. Louis is you had to get a good night’s rest,” Brock said. “The reason was they were a team, still are a team, that will not beat themselves. You’ve got to beat them. You have to bring you’re A Game to the field. You had to bring you’re A Game to the fans. They demanded it.

“As a Cub when I would come in and play this Cardinals ballclub, you were hoping Bob Gibson (Hall-of-Fame pitcher) wasn’t out there pitching and you hoped Bob Uecker (Radio Hall-of-Fame announcer and career .200 hitter in six major-league seasons) would be the catcher. But that was never the case. Gibson was on the mound. [Tim] McCarver was behind the plate.”

Brock spoke about Cardinals Nation – the vast number of baseball fans that became Cardinals fans in the South because radio station KMOX aired games. Brock said he became a St. Louis fan the same way everyone else did in the South.

“I used to lay, listen to the radio every night; in fact, you actually saw baseball on the radio,” Brock thought back. “You could see the Harry Caray pitch when he said ‘It’s a drive.’ You wanted to be there. Then mom would walk in and say cut the radio off.”

Brock said how when he was young, he would play baseball in Crossett and Lake Village, with Lake Village being the place he played his first-ever game in Arkansas at.

He spoke of how wherever he went, he would find Cardinals fans everywhere and that it was generational. “Everywhere I go it’s father, son, grandson. No matter where we go,” he said.

He spoke of how he talked to a child in Denver who had a Mark McGwire jersey and said McGwire was his favorite player. Brock asked him who his favorite old-time Cardinal was and to that the child replied, Ozzie Smith, the Hall-of-Fame shortstop who began his career the same year Brock retired.

He told a story of when he talked to another “kid” who didn’t like baseball because his mother wouldn’t hit his bat with the ball. Brock joked that he played against a guy that wouldn’t hit his bat either: Sandy Koufax (Hall-of-Fame).

Brock also spoke of what he is doing now for the Cardinals.

“What do I do in spring training,” Brock began. “The title that they give Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, myself and Ozzie Smith; we are celebrity coaches. They won’t let us coach anyone. But they will let us to help with what we call connect the dots. There’s a little kid sitting the in dugout, 25-years old, and they look like my grandkids. They would ask me things like, “When you played, was the ball white?
That’s what spring training is for us. That’s what Cardinals Nation is all about.”

Arkansas native Johnny Sain, who was part of the poem, “Spahn and Sain, pray for rain,” also was a person of discussion. Brock pointed out that Sain was the last person to throw a pitch to Babe Ruth in organized baseball and Sain was also the first person to throw a pitch to Jackie Robinson in the major leagues.

Then he spoke of Game 6 and Freese’s heroics.

“Game 6 probably stirred up every emotion that you have,” he said. “You saw the worst baseball you probably ever saw (errors earlier in the game). You were probably embarrassed to be a Cardinal. By the sixth inning, you were like boy it’s nice to be a Cardinal. By the ninth inning the Cardinals were one pitch away, Bob Gibson was with us and he said to my wife and I, ‘The fat lady is singing and I’m getting out of here.’ Jackie said there will be no fat lady singing tonight.”

Brock said he, Schoendienst, Gibson and Smith were honored at home plate before Game 6 and that he ran into Freese, who was the only player in the dugout.

“We exchanged pleasantries and I said to him, ‘This is it man, big game tonight. Do or die. All the advice I’ve got for you is ‘see the ball, hit ball.’ “And folks, he did; to the degree where every emotion we had was touched.”

Brock took two questions after he spoke with the first one being his thoughts on Albert Pujols going to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as a free agent this past winter.

“The fact is, Albert really wanted to be a Cardinal, but circumstances and ball players in the game today play to win, and there are those that play to WIN,” Brock said. “But, somewhere along the line there’s a soft spot where when you’re offered $250 million guaranteed, I think I would have saddled up my horse too. Is that good or bad, I don’t know.

“He’s not here anymore, but we’re going to have a good team. I believe that Carlos Beltran is going to be outstanding. We’re going to miss Albert, but this ballclub is going to be competitive all the way.”

The last question asked was of what Brock thought of the designated hitter rule which was adopted in the American League in 1973, Brock’s 15th season.

“I think it’s un-American,” he said bluntly. “It’s not baseball because high school, college ball, your greatest athletes are the pitchers. These are the guys that can hit and do just about everything. I don’t think it’s fair to play major league baseball [where the pitcher doesn’t hit].”

Brock ended his time with the crowd speaking of the greatest teams in baseball and how the Cardinals are right behind Yankees in World Series Championships, although that number may not be official.

“Only the Yankees have won more World Series,” Brock started. “The Yankees have won 26 World Series. In fact, the Yankees have only won 12 or 13. They’ve bought the rest.

“I really want you to take a good look at it,” Brock said of the Cardinals’ exhibit. “It is about Cardinals’ history. It is about those things that make us proud and give us bragging rights about your team. My team.”

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