By Tony Hooker
Growing up in the seventies in the river city, the pickin’s were slim when it came to winning for the two teams that hold most of the locals’ affections.
The Cubs were mediocre at best, finishing the decade with an overall record of 785-835. There were a few bright spots, as the Pride of Decatur, Illinois, Bill Matlock, won batting titles in 1975 and 76. I remember watching in awe as Dave “Kong” Kingman both hit moon shot home runs and struck out at a prodigious rate in 1979. Either way was must see tv for this baseball crazy kid.
The Cardinals weren’t much better, in reality. Their record for the decade stood at a middling 800-820. There were bright spots for the birds, however, and most of my grade school friends and I were and remain to this day, diehard fans of the team with the birds on the bat. There was Joe Torre winning an MVP in 71. I was only seven, but I remember my dad talking about the year he had, hitting .363. In 79, Keith Hernandez split the MVP vote with Willie Stargell after hitting .344 and playing gold glove level first base. The truth is, both teams spent most of the decade chasing the Pirates and their magnificent teams, never quite measuring up.
However, there was one constant source of excellence roaming left field at Busch Stadium for the entire decade, Lou Brock. The fact that my redbirds acquired Lou from the Cubs in what is widely regarded as one of the most lopsided trades ever only sharpened my delight at watching him play.
Lou was my favorite player as a kid, as he was for most of my friends. For the decade of the seventies, he batted over .300 eight times. Of course, in 1974, he pilfered what was then a major league record 118 bases while batting .306. There was a quiet excellence about him that stood out, even to a knucklehead teenager like me. He never acted flamboyantly, like Reggie “the straw that stirs the drink” Jackson, and he wasn’t as hip as the “we are family” Pirates, but he was always there, a steady presence.
It wasn’t until much later in life, when I got to meet him, that I realized that he was the same way off the field as he was on it. Even in his seventies, there was something regal about his demeanor, and his true spirit shined through when he befriended a young Villa Grovian who only wanted to watch baseball and not get caught up in all the hoopla that surrounded the hall of famer. His friendship with Jake Eversole, a VGHS senior, and his grandfather Jody continued unabated through the years, and it was special for me to be a witness to.
Lou Brock, the “Base Burglar”, passed away last week at the age of 81. For me, a piece of my childhood went with him. I am grateful that I got a chance to meet him, and I’m even more grateful to know that my childhood idol was as great a man as he was a ball player. RIP Mr. Brock. Thank you.