A Baseball Story: “What the hell are you doing with that camera, Brock?”

From a New York Times obit by Richard Goldstein headlined “Lou Brock, Baseball Hall of Famer Known for Stealing Bases, Dies at 81”:

Lou Brock, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame outfielder who in a career spanning two decades became the greatest base-stealer the major leagues had ever known when he eclipsed the single-season and career records for steals, died on Sunday. . . .

Brock’s 118 stolen bases in 1974 eclipsed Maury Wills’s single-season record of 104, set in 1962, and his 938 career steals broke Ty Cobb’s mark of 892. . . .

The Cubs’ organization signed Brock in August 1960, and he made his major league debut late in the ’61 season. But two summers later, he was batting only .251 and struggling with the Wrigley Field sun as the Cubs’ right fielder. He was considered perhaps the fastest man in the league, but the Cubs were reluctant to turn him loose on the basepaths.

At the 1964 trade deadline, the Cardinals gambled by trading for Brock, hoping that his speed would provide the missing element in an impressive lineup featuring Ken Boyer, Bill White, Curt Flood, Dick Groat and Tim McCarver. . . .

For Brock, base stealing required a certain bravado.

“You know before you steal a base that you’ve got nine guys out there in different uniforms,” he once said. “You’re alone in a sea of enemies. The only way you can hold your own is by arrogance, the ability to stand before the crowd. Every time you get thrown out, you’ve got to believe that somebody owes you four or five steals.”

Brock retired after the 1979 season with a career batting average of .293 to complement his base-stealing superlatives. He hit 149 home runs and scored 1,610 runs. He later pursued business ventures in St. Louis and worked as an instructor in the Cardinals’ organization. The team retired his No. 20, and a statue honoring him stands outside Busch Stadium. . . .

For all his natural speed, Brock was also a student of baseball and an innovator in pursuing the art of stealing bases, using technology to “synchronize your movement with the pitcher’s movement.” Late in the ’64 season, he obtained a movie camera and began filming pitchers as they took their set position, threw to first base and threw to the plate, hoping to discover tendencies that might give him an edge.

Brock’s ingenuity wasn’t appreciated by at least one pitcher, as David Halberstam related in his book “October 1964”:

“One day he was filming Don Drysdale, as tough a pitcher as existed in the league.

“‘What the hell are you doing with that camera, Brock?’

“‘Just taking home movies,’ said Brock.

“‘I don’t want to be in your goddamn movies, Brock,’ Drysdale said, and threw at him the next time he was up.”


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