ST. LOUIS — On the observation deck outside the Cardinals’ offices in right-center field, and under an umbrella to protect against the heat, sat an interested observer on a recent Sunday.
“I want to see them rounding second base,” said the base burglar, Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who had a good view of that portion of the diamond.
“In the Cardinals’ starting lineup, eight guys, half of them have got to be able to round second base. If they can’t, then we have to work on it,” Brock said.
What Brock was saying is that, even in this power age, good baseball teams need to be able to go from first to third on base hits.
“The (New York) Yankees were a very good first-to-third ballclub. It’s part of the game,” said Brock.
“Base running sounds simple. But there’s a scientific aspect to it that is a must.”
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Brock’s first-to-third concentration “makes perfect sense. They all have to be able to do it. But half of them have to be able to it religiously. That’s a big 90 feet (between second and third).”
The Cardinals, on a recent Sunday, were a good first-to-home club, scoring eight runs but losing 10-8 to the New York Mets, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
In his best Lou Brock imitation in the first, Matt Carpenter walked, stole second and scored on a bloop single by Jedd Gyorko. Then, in the second, Carpenter did something else that Brock occasionally did as a leadoff man. He homered.
“I had nothing like a Lou Brock game,” argued Carpenter.
“I had an opening to take a base. It was a good count. It was there, so I did that. I hit a ball out.
“It was a good day. But nobody has a Lou Brock game.”
Brock has had it rough in recent years. But he’s alive and well, relatively so, anyway, considering that his left leg had to be amputated four years ago because of diabetes complications. And because his lower back still bothers him because of the blood cancer (multiple myeloma) that jumped him a couple of years ago. And because he has had a heart condition, stemming, he said, from some contamination in his left leg. And because last November he had a stroke, which, he said, he didn’t know he had.
“The only way I believed it was that I couldn’t talk for a week,” said Brock. Through some therapy, his voice has recovered to a degree. His speech isn’t quite as clear as it was for his first 79 years, but he managed an uproarious laugh when he was kidded that sometimes the oft verbose Brock didn’t make much sense anyway when he was speaking.
“That was pretty good,” said Brock, bumping fists with a friend. “Pretty good. You’re probably right.”
Now, Brock is making speeches from a podium. And he is working daily to deal with his latest ailment.
“I’m almost finished with that,” he said, optimistically.
“Then I’ll be really ready to hang out. If I could talk, I’d be OK.”
Although his body has been ravaged more than anyone’s should be, Brock has a default area. “The brain,” said Brock, “is off-limits.”
The will to live is unquestioned, and Brock said the alternative “honestly never crossed my mind. I had not one incidence where I felt like giving up — even with the stroke. I’m hanging in there, man.”
First, Stan Musial died six years ago at 92. Then Red Schoendienst died last year at 95.
Bob Gibson, at 83, and Brock are the Cardinals Hall of Fame senior citizens now. “I used to hang out with Red a lot. He was protecting me,” said Brock, with a smile.
Schoendienst, watching Brock deal with health problems in recent years, used to say, “That’s a tough kid, right there.”
After his playing career ended in 3,023 hits and then a record 938 stolen bases, Brock has been an instructor in Cardinals camp and a broadcaster. He went to work as a base running consultant for the Minnesota Twins, who then went on to win the World Series in 1987.
“Then I got a call from Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers and they won the World Series [in 1988],” Brock said.
“I didn’t get another chance until ‘94 when the Montreal Expos were in first place. And then the strike came. I was taken out of the market,” said Brock, laughing.
Brock said he didn’t know yet how good the Cardinals would be this season. But he applauded the acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
“With him and [Marcell] Ozuna here, the only thing they were missing last year was another bat,” Brock said. “This year that bat is here. And they didn’t change anybody [in trade] to do anything.”
Brock also said he liked their up-the-middle combination of catcher Yadier Molina, shortstop Paul DeJong, second baseman Kolten Wong and center fielder Harrison Bader.
“The kid in center field may be the thing they’re looking for to go to the next level,” Brock said. “He puts the pressure on. I hope he doesn’t stop.
“If Bader is batting .110, put him out there.”
On June 18, Brock will turn 80. He promises there will be a party.
“Baseball, look out,” he said. — (AP)