Growing up in a family of Arkansas sharecroppers, Lou Brock first heard about other possibilities at age 9. Harry Caray was calling a game on KMOX between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team Jackie Robinson—the first Black player in the major leagues—played for. The radio broadcast was the boy's first glimpse of a world beyond segregation, poverty, and the Jim Crow South. Things changed instantly for him, the New York Times reports. "I felt pride in being alive," Brock later said. "The baseball field was my fantasy of what life offered." He pursued it after winning an academic scholarship to Southern University, where he joined the baseball team and was noticed by Buck O’Neil, the former Negro Leagues star who was scouting for the Chicago Cubs. A 19-season Hall of Fame career followed, mostly with St. Louis after he was traded from the Cubs in 1964. One of the Cardinals' most popular—and greatest—players ever, Brock, after battling health issues for years, died Sunday at age 81.
Brock helped lead the Cardinals to three pennants and two World Series titles in the 1960s. He was at his best in the World Series, hitting .391 and stealing 14 bases in 21 games, per Sports Illustrated. He played hard. "The violence he had running the bases was nonpareil," teammate Tim McCarver said. "I'd never seen anybody like that." Though known mostly for stealing bases—breaking Ty Cobb's career record, amassing 938, and breaking Maury Wills' single-season record, finishing with 118—Brock was a hitter. The left fielder collected 3,023 hits. Teammates remember other qualities, including his toughness. McCarver never saw him in the training room. Ted Simmons said Brock must have been hurt at times but "never once in my life did I know he was playing hurt." When he died, they had trouble speaking about him. Bob Gibson, a Hall of Famer and friend, didn't want to talk, per the Post-Dispatch. McCarver and Keith Hernandez broke down. Already a star, Brock mentored the young Hernandez. "I don't think I would have made it without Lou," Hernandez said, adding, "He was an extraordinary man." (Read more obituary stories.)