Inside Hotlanta and the SIAC
By Hal Lamar
Lou Brock and Cool Papa Bell; Sports Idols I Got To Meet
Sunday, September 6, the grim reaper claimed the life of 81-year-old Chicago Cub and St Louis Cardinal baseball sensation and Hall of Famer Louis Clark “Lou“ Brock, who reportedly succumbed from a cancer-related illness.
As of this writing, those close to him and his agent offered no further details about the cause of his demise.
What cannot be suppressed was this: Brock’s performance on and off the diamond. With no reservation, those who played alongside the southpaw who was often referred to in jest as “the base burglar” called him one of the sports’ nicest, gentle and caring individuals to ever put on a pair of spikes. The years also provided me with a rare opportunity to meet both Brock and another idol of mine: Hall of fame Negro league baserunning and sealing phenom James “Cool Papa Bell.”
Back during the time I was covering Atlanta Braves baseball in the 70s, I met Brock when the Cardinals came to Atlanta. I’ve never met anyone who was more friendly or relaxed with the press as he was. He was C-L-A-S-S…. spelled with all caps.
Brock attended historically black Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (he was Phi Beta Sigma by the way) , “Super Lou” actually enrolled there on an academic work-study scholarship but lost it when his GPA fell below the required 3.0 GPA he needed to keep it. He still remained in school and spent a lot of time on the baseball diamond. After spending time as a spectator, he finally got an opportunity to shag a few flies and take some swings at the plate. He hit several balls out of the park. It impressed then head coach Robert “Bob” Lee and won Brock an athletic scholarship. In 1959, Hall of Famer Buck O’Neill, who had been keeping tabs on Brock while at Southern, got him signed to a contract with the Chicago Cubs. He did well but apparently not well enough to suit Chicago so he was traded away to the Cardinals in 1964. After a slow start, Brock caught afire, relying on a heavy bat (which surprised many since he was not a particularly brawny brother at 6-1 and 170 pounds) but caught everybody’s eye with his blazing speed.
He became a student of base stealing but not without a lot of help and pointers from James “Cool Papa” Bell, another of my heroes, who played for several teams in the Negro Leagues. Bell, who is also a southpaw, is regarded as the fastest player to ever play the game of baseball (it is said that Bell, who earned the nickname “Cool Papa” because of his calm demeanor when he broke into baseball in the 1930s as a knuckle-ball pitcher, circled the bases in 13.1 seconds on a wet field in Chicago. He claimed that he circled the diamond in 12 seconds when the field was dry.
I believe that.
One of baseball’s most touching moments for me was September 10, 1974, when Brock stole his 104th and 105th base to set a major league record against Philadelphia. That was the same year Bell was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He stood beside Brock on the field when the record was broken and the game was halted. Bell handed him the bat he broke the record with.
In 19 years of pro baseball, Brock set records, broke records and became a “professor” in the art of base stealing. It doesn’t surprise me that some enterprising the college hadn’t invited the son of Arkansas sharecroppers to their campus to set up a “base-stealing 101” course for aspiring players. There is a sports complex named in his honor on the campus of Lindenwood College in Missouri. he was inducted in the Hall on the first ballot in 1985. His jerseys have been retired at Southern and with the Cardinals.
Just after Brock’s transition became public, an admirer mentioned on Facebook that “the only thing Brock couldn’t out-run was death.”
RIP Lou…and you too, Cool Papa (1991).
XTRA POINTS: It's reassuring to see black men standing up against injustice and supporting our community and its' peoples of color. BISCRAK, an acronym for Brothers in Service to the Community with Random Acts of Kindness has operated in Atlanta since February 9 , 2013. It's mission is simple: to make a positive and productive impact on our community in the areas of health, spirituality, political awareness, disaster readiness and in support of our black-owned and operated businesses. These men have served as volunteer readers in schools, donated to shelters for battered and abused women, Hosea feed the hungry (now Hosea helps), assist flood victims here and in the Caribbean and assisting other organizations helping others in need. Their long term goal: "moving forward into the future with greater determination to make a greater impact to the community in the spirit of African tradition".
Got an item? Contact Hal -> hallamar at comcast.net