Lou Brock to Ellsbury : Be A Panther !
Posted by athomeatfenway on March 10, 2010
STEALING IS MY GAME by Franz Schulze and Lou Brock. 206 pages 1976, Prentice-Hall.
I remember Lou Brock as the daring wheelman of the ’67 Cardinals that bashed my Red Sox in the Series.
In the 80’s and 90’s, Rickey Henderson could burn rubber. Today, Jacoby Ellsbury can get after it. But Lou Brock was a swift motorman, effortlessly changing from total relaxation to furious energy in a split second.
Here is how the author, Franz Schulze describes Brock’s acceleration:
“Movement now, a flashing of red and white on the baseline between first and second. I would like to say Brock took off like a shot, but that is not the right metaphor. One moment he was almost loafing. The next he was driving down to second, legs pounding like pistons, but if the transition was quick, it was nevertheless too smooth, if you can believe that, for the start of his run to be called explosive. Catcher Ed Hermann reacted alertly and threw accurately to second. The fly swatter came down, but the fly makes decisions and moves in just about the same fraction of a second it took Brock to beat the throw. (Wilbur) Wood looked on helplessly.”
Brock’s base stealing was a skill set and a weapon. He had the physical gifts and a analytic tendency that enabled him to use visuals, habits and probabilities to deceive and beat enemy moundsmen.
He did the unthinkable in 1974.
As a prelude, Maury Wills surpassed Ty Cobb’s record of 98 steals in a season in 1962 with 104.
At the time, that was considered unbreakable. Cobb’s record had stood for 50 years.
104 loomed large in the record books until 1974 when Brock shattered it with 118.
Some of the wonderful things this book shares are Brock’s corollaries for base stealing.
Without further delay:
Get On Base.
Once on 1st Base, DISDAIN 1st Base. 1st Base is nowhere.
When on 1st Base, develop the look of a dozing malingerer. This appearance helps foment the element of shock.
Look like you are not paying attention, but keep your eyes wide open.
Be a Panther. A Panther is slow & easy at the same time — except for those moments where it is very necessary to be very fast. Be a Panther.
Stealing bases is theoretically improbable. If the pitcher, catcher and runner execute their respective responsibilities perfectly, the runner will be out.
The runner can outmaneuver the pitcher. And vice-versa.
Take a modest lead and stand motionless. When the Pitcher goes home, he will telegraph a great deal of information. The Pitcher has 2 things on his mind: You and the batter. You have just one thing on your mind: the Pitcher. Disconcerting the opponent is marvelously complex.
As a lefty hitter with dominant left pushing foot, I can’t afford a big lead. Being Lefty helps when pushing to 2nd base, but it’s disadvantageous when scampering back to 1st base. So, no big leads.
The only thing the Pitcher doesn’t know about me is the precise moment when I will go.
I am fishing in a very clear pool where I can see the fish I’m after and lead him gently and patiently to the bait.
Knowing when to go is intuitive. It’s like knowing what an intimate friend is going to say a split second before they say it.
Empathize with the Pitcher. Empathize with his moves and thoughts. At one point, he has to commit himself.
This book about Hall of Famer Lou Brock was written 2 years after Brock set that single season SB record in ’74. At the time of publication, Lou was 37 years old and 88 SB’s short of Cobb’s career record. He was also 500 hits short of 3,000 hits, a club with only 11 members at the time
We learn of Lou’s upbringing in poop-poor Collinston, Louisiana, fatherless, with 8 siblings . We see him emerge from poverty with athletic skills and that analytic nature. He earns and loses a scholarship at Southern University, and accepts up a $30,000 signing bonus in the Cubs organization. After batting .361 at St. Cloud, Lou hits the majors and never looks back. But he doesn’t thrive under the Cubs College of Coaches experiment.
First week: “Brock, pull the ball !”
Two weeks later: “Brock, why are you pulling it ? Hit to the opposite field !”
Two weeks later: “ Brock, stop going the other way ! You need to bunt, bunt, bunt ! “
Even after the College of Coaches was replaced with a traditional manager, Brock’s mind was in a knot. He wasn’t a match for the Cubs system of concentrating on personal weaknesses, rather than emphasizing what one does well.
And then in 1964, after 3.5 Cub years, the Northsiders gave up on Lou. Stan Musial was retiring and the Cardinals needed an outfielder. The Cubs needed pitching.
The trade essentially was Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio.
Ernie was a very good pitcher. But his best was behind him. After a poor 1965 and 1966, he was out of baseball as a player.
Brock went on to star with St. Louis, where he got the green light to run from the get go, for the next 14 seasons.
Funny thing about that 1964 season. Brock’s average jumped from .251 with Chicago to .348 in St. Louis. Brock was a sparkplug for the Cards as they won the Pennant on the last weekend and defeated the Yankees 4 games to 3 in the Series.
This great little book takes us through Brock’s background and career, with emphasis on the World Series of 1964, 1967 and 1968.
It’s a keeper.
That said, author Franz Schulze strains my attention. He’s more poet than prose man. He inverts sentence structure more than Yoda. (”Right Fielder Mike Shannon it was who attracted the most attention”), and at times assumes we all speak French (“Regardez, L.A.”)
Schulze is an alternatively good and strange read.
But I’ve got to give him props over the summary he offers of the 1960’s. To paraphrase:
“…even conservative old Baseball, like every other walk of life in America of the 1960’s, was an arena of violent shock and change. I will simply remind you of Vietnam, the Assassinations, the Counterculture, the Pill, Pop Art and the rise of a new national religion known as Pro Football…..Within Baseball itself Eckert was hired so the owners would have someone they could boss around……There was also the Houston Astrodome, a glass roofed super stadium where they thought of using colored baseballs….Mayor McKeldin of Baltimore urged the taverns of his city to let Negroes watch the 1966 World Series on TV…..Judges argued over whether the Braves belonged to Atlanta or Milwaukee until after everyone who was not a party to it was stupefied with boredom….See the Athletics try to decide whether they should stay in Kansas City or move to Louisville. See them neatly resolve this by moving to Oakland…….Juan Marichal takes a bat to the head of John Roseboro right in the middle of a game and gets off with and a $1750 fine and an 8 game suspension……Koufax and Drysdale threaten to give up Baseball for the movies….”
This book resonates with the rebellious 60’s and 70’s. It is of that chaotic and experimental time. One wonders if weed and wine were handy at the keyboard.
As much as I like and respect Lou Brock, I won’t try to hold him up as a greater thief than Rickey Henderson, who played 5 years later in life than Lou and amassed more SB’s.
But it is tempting to do so.
Henderson stole 1406 bases and was caught stealing 335 times. That is an .808 success rate. He played his last game at age 45.
Brock stole 938 bases and was caught stealing 307 times. That’s a .753 success rate. He played his last game at age 40.
Rickey played in the steroid era but has never been mentioned or connected.
Brock had to face terrific defensive catchers like Bench and Grote, where Rickey simply did not.
Brock played through pain and injury. He played through a broken shoulder blade that Koufax fractured. Not to mention numerous incidents in which he ran into an outfield wall.
Rickey had 2,111 more plate appearances playing in an age of uber expansion & weakened competition.
As tempting as it is to make a case for Brock, I believe it is best to simply appreciate the remarkable talents of both men.
Koufax was known for NOT retaliating against hot doggers or batsmen who raked him, but in May 1965, Lou was batting .370 when he was hit by Koufax and suffered a broken shoulder blade. Lou’s average sunk to .220 before he turned it around to finish at .288.
Jose Santiago was the first Puerto Rican to start a World Series game. (Game 1, 1967,for Boston). Although Jose lost to Bob Gibson by 2-1 as Brock went 4-for-4, he also became the first Puerto Rican to homer in a World Series game since Luis Omos tagged Joe Page in the 1949 World Series, and Jose Pagan went yard in ’62 against Ralph Terry.
Shulze writes one of the best summaries of the 1967 World Series in just 6 pages. He says it matched one team that won the Pennant by 10.5 games versus one that won its Pennant “by the grace of God, some glue, spit, and a tire patch kit.”
The running game is a head game. It is nettling, worrisome, exploitative, corrosive and havoc wreaking.
Before Brock stole 118 bases in 1974, he stole 30 bases in the last 30 games of 1973 to lead a Cardinal offense that had seriously waned.
Wonderful stories and insights about and on Bob Veale, Stave Dalkowski, and Dick Allen.
Don’t miss this book, baseball historians. Check ebay, check the web for it, this entertaining history of an all time great.