MIAMI — For someone who stole 938 bases in a 19-year Major League Baseball career, Lou Brock said he originally didn’t know “how to run.”
‘I could run, but I didn’t know how to run,” Brock said.
That all changed when Brock, then with the Chicago Cubs, met Jesse Owens, one of the greatest track athletes of all time.
“I was asking him a lot of questions. He was giving me information,” Brock said. “The information he gave me came together in ’64.”
Brock, who came to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 in what is considered to be one of the most lopsided MLB trades ever, was the guest speaker at Saturday’s RBI Miami Snowball Classic.
This marked the second straight year and the third time in the past four that a Cardinal great spoke at the banquet.
Pitcher Bob Gibson appeared last year and the “Wizard of Oz” — Ozzie Smith — was the speaker in 2014.
RBI Miami is a grassroots organization dedicated to raising funds to renovate Miami’s baseball and softball fields.
“I was trying to pick his brain,” Brock said. “It’s like how can you pick his brain and you don’t know what to ask.”
The tips paid off in a big way. Brock went on to pilfer 982 bases while playing in three World Series, winning two.
“I caught on to it fast,” Brock said. “It was almost like the next day it all started happening. He predicted it would if I got into the know-how part of it.”
Brock, then 24, went from the Cubs to St. Louis, along with Jack Spring and Paul Toth, for pitcher Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens on June 24, 1964.
Brock hit .348 the rest of the year, leading the Cardinals to a pennant and a World Series win over the favored New York Yankees.
After the trade, Mike Shannon (now in his 46th season as a Cardinals broadcaster) was shifted to right field with Brock taking over in left.
Cards manager Johnny Keane thought Gibson and Ray Sadecki could match the Los Angeles Dodgers duo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and that Kenny Boyer and Bill White were the equal to Tommy Davis’ offensive production.
“He (Keane) said ‘the guy we can’t match is Maury Wills. I think he’s a difference maker. You are going to match him,’” Brock said. “I am going to match Maury Wills? I told him he had the wrong guy and he said ‘no, I have the right guy in my left fielder.’”
The “Phillie Phold” — part of a late-season collapse by the Philadelphia Phillies — allowed the Cardinals to make up a 6-½ game deficit and win the ’64 National League pennant.
They then went on to beat the New York Yankees — and the “Commerce Comet” Mickey Mantle — in seven games in the World Series.
“I fell right in ... boy did I fall in,” Brock said. “I was the piece they were missing.”
Brock went on to play in two more World Series, beating the Red Sox in seven games in 1967 while losing to the Detroit Tigers in a seven-game 1968 World Series.
He really liked the ’67 team, which featured future Hall of Famers Gibson, Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda and himself.
The “El Birdos” won the National League by 10½ games over the San Francisco Giants.
“That 1967 team was probably the most outstanding ballclub, the most flexible team I ever played with,” Brock said. “Bob Gibson used to say ‘bring on the ’27 Yankees’ with that ’67 team. We didn’t beat ourselves. In ’64, we had hitters. In ’67, we had a team.”
The landscape of Major League Baseball has changed greatly since Brock’s playing days.
“The difference between yesteryear and today is the contract itself,” Brock said. “Agents or representatives of players came into baseball about ‘72. You don’t build winners as much as you used to.”
He noted that catcher Ted Simmons, the 10th pick of the 1967 MLB Draft, was the first player who ever ran on the field and didn’t have a signed contract.
“Right after that, agents started to become very effective,” Brock said. “Then you began to get players who came into the game not necessarily to win a championship but to make money.”
Curt Flood, a key cog in the Cards’ three World Series runs, helped initiate the modern era of the game when he refused to accept a trade to the Phillies after the 1969 season. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court.
“Curt didn’t win that; he lost just like the three or four people had before him had tried,” Brock said. “But Marvin Miller got the ears of the players and for the first time, they were able to band together and get a breakthrough on that reserve clause. Curt stood his ground and because he did, Marvin Miller had a lot to work with.”
Brock said Cardinal players didn’t know what was going on.
“We thought Curt had a few differences with the owner of the ballclub (Gussie Busch) and it had nothing to do with anything else,” Brock said. “Boy, were we wrong.”
Brock liked playing for Busch, who spearheaded a move to have Anheuser-Busch purchase the team in 1953 after then owner Fred Saigh was convicted of tax evasion.
“He was a fan and he actually listened to the ballclub,” Brock said. “He would conduct meetings. I don’t see much of that any more. Gussie had his executive vice president and all that, but when we hit a slump, he would bring his entourage in and would ask ‘what’s your problem?’”
Brock said Busch was different from the bombastic George Steinbrenner, who owned the New York Yankees for 37 years until his death in 2010.
“He was not as vicious as Steinbrenner, but he would give you a pep talk.” Brock said.
He said a win by the Cubs in the 2016 World Series — their first since 1908.
“I say the Cubs grew up, the little Cubbies,” Brock said. “I was happy for them. I thought they could be a good inspiration for the Cardinals this year. There is nothing like knocking off the champion.”