‘Chris Gonna Find Lou Brock!’
I was trying to write something about Tom Seaver that had not been said in the past few days.
Then our-son-the-newsman texted me on Sunday afternoon: “Omigosh, now Lou Brock.”
Immediately, immediately, I thought of a falsetto voice in the cramped old Busch Stadium clubhouse, piercing the hubbub of a great team:
“Chris going to America! Chris gonna find Lou Brock!”
That was Bob Gibson, the crabby but funny straw boss of the Cardinal clubhouse, emitting the punch line of Flip Wilson in his epic routine about Christopher Columbus:
Queen Isabel -- Elizabeth Johnson, that is -- is underwriting the mission of Columbus, and she is down at the dock cheering him on -- in American Black patois:
“Chris going to America!” the queen shrieks. “Chris gonna find Ray Charles!” (*-see below)
By inserting Brock, Gibson paid tribute to the player whose legs and brain and will helped the Cardinals win three pennants in the mid-60s, and for a while made Brock the all-time stolen base leader.
Lou Brock, who died Sunday, was the final piece of the 1964 Cardinals, coming over in a one-sided trade with the Cubs. (You got it: for Ernie Broglio.)
He gave the Cardinals one more star to go along with Gibson, Bill White, Curt Flood, Dick Groat, Tim McCarver and Ken Boyer, one of the great teams (and clubhouses) I ever covered.
Brock also gave Stan Musial one of his favorite punch lines during the World Series of 1964. Musial had retired after the 1963 season, and the Cardinals landed Brock in mid-June of 1964.
Why were the Cardinals celebrating in October of 1964?
“We finally got a left-fielder,” Musial would say with his giggle.
Brock did not come from nowhere. While the Mets were still waiting for The Youth of America, in Casey Stengel’s prophecy, the Cubs already had talent but negated by bad management.
In 1962, the Cubs promoted Brock to the majors, to his surprise. On His first at-bat in a Sunday doubleheader in the Polo Grounds, he lofted a drive that landed directly on top of the bleacher fence -- only the third player in history to hit a home run into those bleachers.
“You won’t ever do that again!” shouted Alvin Jackson, the Mets’ lefty, who gave up the homer. Brock agreed, he never would. (Two college men from the South they became friends.)
Brock soon acquired the reputation of an under-performer who was skittery in left field. The Cubs gave up on him in 1964, and the Cardinals’ manager, Johnny Keane, did the same thing with for Brock that he was doing with Gibson. (“I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane once said about Gibson, one of the most beautiful statements I have ever heard from a coach or manager. Overlooking old racial stereotypes was part of Keane’s life vision.)
After the Cardinals won the 1964 World Series, I had dinner with Brock in Chicago, for a profile of him for Sport Magazine.
“They needed a lift,” Brock said. “I had a history of not being able to help anybody. I think the ballplayers felt this. Nobody said anything to me but I could feel it.”
By 1967, Brock was an established all-star who had never seen Seaver closer than 60 feet, 6 inches. Their first encounter in the National League all-star clubhouse is a wonderful story that Seaver told many times over the years. (The Brock-Seaver part is about 60 seconds into it:)
Brock and the “kid” eventually faced each other 157 times, more than either faced any opponent. The record shows that Seaver got the better of Brock. (But Brock played in three World Series.)
Many years later, Brock made a great contribution to the Mets, without meaning it. He was a soothing older teammate to a hard-driving young Cardinal named Keith Hernandez, telling him to relax and play his game.
When Hernandez became the infield straw boss of the Mets in the 80’s, he often referred to Brock’s kindness and encouragement. I am sure Hernandez is gutted today, because his mentor has passed, after losing a leg to diabetes years ago.
Two giants, a few days apart. I was lucky to be around the Cardinals and Brock, just as I was proud to cover Tom Seaver on some of his epic days. I can’t claim I knew him well, but I had plenty of opportunity to observe. One of my last impressions was Seaver’s inner Marine joining Manager Gil Hodges to give the Mets’ self-image a posture adjustment in the late 60s. I wrote about it last year:
In this weird, truncated season, these two Hall of Fame players, linked by familiarity in their careers, are linked again.
*- Here's the origin of the Columbus/Queen Isabel (Isabel Johnson) /Ray Charles riff.
9/7/2020 01:49:05 pm
Hi George, highly recommend Halberstram’s “October 1964” for a chronicle of the ‘64 baseball season with a focus on the Yanks and the Cards, culminating in their WS matchup.
9/7/2020 07:38:58 pm
9/7/2020 08:47:23 pm
Thanks for the recommendation. Halberstam was a great reporter who was a legend with my colleagues at the NYT and also a legend in Nashville when I was covering that region. I covered that 1964 Series -- the first Series on the road for me...epic personalities and a grand old baseball town, St. Louis. GV
9/7/2020 06:46:35 pm
Brock homering into the centerfield bleachers at the Polo Grounds so far exceeded what we believed were his natural abilities that the only thing I can compare it to is Bob Beamon in Mexico City in 1968.
9/7/2020 08:49:08 pm
Roy: a friend of mine played against Brock in A ball a year before that 1962 home run. I'm going to chat with my pal later this week -- he met Brock and has some stories to tell. GV
9/10/2020 09:18:08 am
Roy and Others: I'll get to my Brock story soon...but the mention of Beamon reminds me that he went to the same high school I did -- Jamaica High -- albeit a decade later. Jamaica High still in the public eye, via Sheila Jackson Lee (now from Houston) and Jelani Cobb, writer for New Yorker and teacher at Columbia.,
9/7/2020 07:45:37 pm
9/7/2020 08:50:48 pm
Bruce: I was going to comment on the smoking -- on national TV -- but wanted to stay on message. It's a great prop/stage device but the stink of the cigarets was going into my brain as I watched the video. GV
9/7/2020 07:55:00 pm
Great stuff and thanks so much George.
9/8/2020 11:50:02 am
Smoking was everywhere back then. It was rare to see a movie in which stars like Bogart and Bacall were not smoking.
9/8/2020 03:12:48 pm
I thought the Queen’s name was Geraldine.
9/8/2020 03:17:11 pm
Here’s one after a rusty synapse Although he compiled a 14–10 won/loss mark (with a 4.48 earned run average) in his three-year MLB pitching career and was highly regarded as a third-base coach, Schacht's ability to mimic other players from the coaching lines, and his comedy routines with fellow Washington coach Nick Altrock, earned him the nickname of "The Clown Prince of Baseball". Ironically, at the height of their collaboration, Schacht and Altrock developed a deep personal animosity and stopped speaking to each other off the field. During their famous comic re-enactments of the Dempsey–Tunney championship boxing match, many speculated that they pulled no punches as they rained blows on each other.
9/10/2020 01:59:01 am
9/10/2020 09:19:37 am
Michael, Gene, Ed and Alan: thank you all for your comments. GV
9/10/2020 02:17:29 pm
9/10/2020 02:31:13 pm
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.