Lou Brock: "This is a reward for everything you have done. This is high and above, head and shoulders above the crowd."

January 7, 1985: Lou Brock is elected to the Hall of Fame

It may have been Lou Brock’s first year of eligibility, but he had been waiting his entire life for Jack Lang’s phone call.

At 6 p.m. on January 7, 1985, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America called to inform Brock that he had just been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Lang himself had just finished counting the votes that afternoon in New York.[1]

“It doesn’t rank among baseball accomplishments as much as a high honor (of) my lifetime,” Brock said. “Baseball accomplishments are based on how you perform on the field. This is a reward for everything you have done. This is high and above, head and shoulders above the crowd.”[2]

Brock received 79.7% of the vote, becoming just the 20th player in history to be inducted on their first ballot.

Earlier that day, Brock had said that waiting for that phone call was “like a guy waiting for a baby in the waiting room. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve done what I’m supposed to do – five years ago.”[3]

He was joined in the Class of 1985 by knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm, who received 83.7% of the vote in recognition of a 21-year major-league career.

Former White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox, in his final year on the ballot, received 295 votes, falling two votes shy of the 75% threshold. Fox had to wait until 1997 to be elected by the Veterans Committee.

Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer received 68 votes, well shy of election but enough to keep him on the ballot for the next 15 years.

Born in El Dorado, Arkansas, and raised in Collinston, Louisiana, Brock played at Southern University before beginning his career with the Cubs. The left-handed hitter played two full seasons in Chicago before he was traded to St. Louis on June 15, 1964, alongside Jack Spring and Jack Toth for Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens, and Bobby Shantz.

In 327 games with the Cubs, Brock hit a relatively average .257/.306/.383 with 20 homers, 86 RBIs, and 50 stolen bases. Things changed immediately when he arrived in St. Louis. Through the remainder of the 1964 season, he hit .348 with 12 homers, 44 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases.

With Brock providing a spark at the top of the lineup, St. Louis went 65-39 the remainder of the season to win the National League pennant by one game over the Reds and Phillies. In the World Series, Brock hit .300 with a home run and five RBIs to help the Cardinals defeat the Yankees in seven games.

In 1967 and 1968, Brock again helped to lead the Cardinals to the National League pennant. In the two World Series, Brock compiled 25 hits and batted .439, including a record 13 hits in the 1968 Fall Classic.

Brock later pointed to the 1967 season as his best, as he hit .299/.327/.472 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs. His 113 runs scored and 52 stolen bases both led the league.

“I was second only to Hank Aaron in total bases (with 225) and I was fourth or fifth in the league in home runs,” Brock said. “The Cards won going away from the rest of the league. It was undoubtedly my best performance.”[4]

Brock continued to go strong in the 1970s. In 1974, the 35-year-old broke Maury Wills’ single-season record with 118 stolen bases. Three years later, he passed Ty Cobb’s career stolen base record.

He described his aggressive baserunning style as “baserunning arrogance.”

“Baserunning arrogance is just a factor which forces one out of a comfort zone,” Brock said. “It’s almost as if somebody is standing there turning up or down your thermostat. It’s not based on fear but on knowledge.”[5]

After a down season in which he hit just .221 and appeared in just 92 games in 1978, Brock was forced to re-examine his approach for his final season in 1979.

“We set our performance on automatic pilot once we reach the top,” he said. “I was there for about 10 years. You didn’t have to go beyond that to excel. I did it again in ’78 but nothing. In 1979, I had to do it manually. I went back to the basic fundamentals of the game and found I could excel at the same level I had done in previous years. I think there is a lesson which could be passed on to a lot of players. When something goes awry on automatic pilot, you can always go to conscious pilot.”[6]

Brock’s new approach resulted in one more all-star campaign, as he batted .304 and collected the 3,000th hit of his career in 1979. Brock retired with 3,023 hits, 1,610 runs, 900 RBIs, and 938 stolen bases.

“Three thousand hits fuse your career,” Brock said. “They take you out of the category of a baserunner.”[7]

The Hall of Fame voters clearly agreed. On July 28, 1985, Brock was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He and Wilhelm were joined by another Cardinal, Enos Slaughter, and posthumous honoree Arky Vaughan.

Brock was up at 5 o’clock in his hotel room that morning putting the finishing touches on his speech.[8] In his remarks, Brock spoke of the ray of hope baseball provided for a black boy raised in the Jim Crow era of the south.

“The first time I heard about the Hall of Fame, Jackie Robinson had just broken the color barrier and I was a 9-year-old boy growing up in a southern town,” Brock said. “During those days, as black players began to enter the big leagues, there were those who condemned that act by announcing to the world that baseball is turning into a black nightmare. But the world of baseball soon forgave them because they knew that those persons were merely acting upon borrowed attitudes.”[9]

For Brock, baseball was beamed into his home through KMOX radio in St. Louis and WLAC radio in Nashville, Tennessee.

“They were the cross-fertilization of culture in the days before the dominance of television, carrying the big-city words back to the sticks,” he said. “It is also important to remember that during the ‘50s, Jim Crow was king in the south and the blacks had very little opportunity to be in touch with their own experience.

“One summer night while searching the dial on our old Philco radio, I came across a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals. This game was being broadcasted by two broadcasters – one Harry Caray and Jack Buck. I was so overwhelmed by this game that I thought I had tuned into another world – a world of genuine expression of feelings in which life had no façade and that hurt and loneliness were not the natural price for being alive. Such a world was in total contrast to my surroundings.”[10]

That glimpse of a better world inspired Brock to attend Southern University, he said.

“I found it extremely difficult to explain why the pursuit of excellence and the desire to excel were very special to me,” Brock explained. “During the heydays of my career, I discovered that there are three factors which cause one to sustain any kind of success. The first one is the ability to put it all together. Many times you hear that expression but nobody ever tells you what exactly it means. Many players can run, many can hit, many can throw, but when they put it all together, the media refers to them as superstars.

“Determination was the other factor to remain at the top. One must believe that he could be the very best.

“The third factor that became very important to sustaining success was something called the support of the people. Many times I have said there is nothing like the roar of the crowd to start a rally or to give that player that extra edge, and today I would like to acknowledge some of those who were always in my corner, rooting for me as I tried to get that extra edge.”[11]

After thanking his family, Brock recognized his former high school baseball coach, Roosevelt Johnson.

“I never played under a coach until I was a junior, and in came a guy who had just finished college, a couple of years older than we were, and was about to tell us what to do,” Brock recalled. “He made a statement that I never forgot, and he said, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without getting your permission.’”

Next, Brock thanked his college coach, Emory Hines, and Buck O’Neill, the Cubs scout and former Kansas City Monarchs star who first signed him. From the Cardinals, he thanked August A. Busch, Jr., Fred Kuhlmann, and Jim Tooney.

“He had what you were looking for,” O’Neil said. “He had that great desire to succeed. This was his way to get out of the ghetto. You can scout all the God-given tools, but what does he have here?” O’Neil tapped the left side of his chest and said, “You don’t know until you put him under the fire.”[12]

Afterwards, Brock was asked how long it took him to write his 15-minute Hall of Fame speech.

“About 25 years,” he replied with a grin.[13]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Basepaths Were Brock’s Laboratory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1985.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Basepaths Were Brock’s Laboratory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1985.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Lou Brock Joins Hall Of Fame,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1985.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Basepaths Were Brock’s Laboratory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1985.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Basepaths Were Brock’s Laboratory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1985.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Basepaths Were Brock’s Laboratory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1985.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Basepaths Were Brock’s Laboratory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1985.

[8] Joe Donnelly, “Brock’s Dream Hits New Level,” Newsday, July 29, 1985.

[9] “Lou Brock delivers Hall of Fame induction speech,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_k_nHvRmxo.

[10] “Lou Brock delivers Hall of Fame induction speech,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_k_nHvRmxo.

[11] “Lou Brock delivers Hall of Fame induction speech,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_k_nHvRmxo.

[12] Joe Donnelly, “Brock’s Dream Hits New Level,” Newsday, July 29, 1985.

[13] Joe Donnelly, “Brock’s Dream Hits New Level,” Newsday, July 29, 1985.

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