I am not sure I have encountered a Major League Hall Of Famer that can work a crowd and a room better than Lou Brock.
Over All Star Weekend, I took the opportunity Sunday morning to attend FanFest at Bartle Hall in Kansas City. The highlight of the schedule, for me, was question and answer sessions with two Hall Of Famers, Andre Dawson and Lou Brock. The sessions were each 30 minutes long and open to anyone in attendance that wanted to come in and listen.
Dawson was one of my father’s favorite players and a Hall Of Famer that I can attest to having seen play myself. “The Hawk” was frank, answered many questions, and was straight forward and candid with his responses. It was a legitimate look at baseball north of the border, on astroturf, and throughout baseball. It was not until after Dawson spoke and Brock took center stage that I realized the stark differences.
Lou came into the room to the obvious chants of “Lou” that resounded like boos from the crowd. He smiled and waved, took his seat and handled questions from the interviewer and then from the crowd. One fan preceded his question by telling Brock that his son was named Lou after the great basestealer. The fan’s young son, who was maybe twelve, was with him and Brock invited his namesake to come stand next to him while he answered the young man’s father’s question. He talked with the young man like he was answering the question just for him, played him up to the crowd for another loud “Lou” response, and sent a family home with a memory they will never forget.
Lou told stories and gave technical advice on base running. He explained how he got jumps off of pitchers and how he taught young ball players to square up quickly.
He was asked near the end of his interview to compare current Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina to someone from his era.
“Johnny Bench. The way that Yadi has learned to hit the ball at this point in his career, Johnny Bench is a completely fair comparison.”
One fan asked about Lou’s first All Star Game, his thoughts and memories from that game. Lou responded (paraphrased):
I arrived early because I did not want to be seen as “big time”. The last thing I wanted was to arrive when Willie Mays was arriving, I was young and did not want to show disrespect. The game started at 3:00 p.m., so I got to the stadium at about 9 a.m. that morning. I was the only one in the clubhouse except the young man clubhouse attendant they had there. I decided, being an All Star, that I could be a little “big time” and I beckoned the kid over and asked him if he would go get me a Coca-Cola. The young man returned with my Coca-Cola and then introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Tom Seaver”. He made me pay for that Coke for about 14 seasons.
The crowd, of course, was eating out of Brock’s hands by this point and Brock went on to share personal stories of his friend, mentor, roommate and father figure, Buck O’Neil. The stories showed a personal side to a relationship that started between a scout and player. They showed an emotion that I was unaware of. The demonstrated a bond that was stronger than most knew. It was touching, funny and engaging.
Another fan marveled at Brock’s base stealing ability and remembered a game that he was in attendance for that Lou Brock stole home. He asked Lou if he could recall how many times he achieved the feat of stealing home in his career. Lou’s response did not disappoint.
Once. I stole home exactly one time in my career. The lineup that we had was full of guys that were paid to drive in runs. Once I stole a base and put myself into scoring position, they would yell out at me “STAY THERE”. While it was a joke sometimes, the one hard fast rule I was given was not to steal home so the guys behind me could continue to drive in runs.
Finally, Brock was asked about pitchers he once faced and what he thought of all of them. The key to the question was the wording which contained “who did you see the ball well against.” Brock, deliberate in his delivery, dropped a few names and then gave us a great quote:
“I saw the ball out of Koufax’s hand very well. Never hit it, though.”
Listening to a player of Brock’s caliber talk about life and baseball made 30 minutes seem like mere seconds. It was the highlight of a very full Sunday for me and an opportunity I suggest no one ever pass up on. FanFest gave us all the opportunity to make a personal connection with larger than life figures, and it’s an opportunity I will never forget.