It’s usually a losing argument to claim that a player in baseball’s Hall of Fame is underrated, and this must be doubly true when his nickname was “The Franchise.” Still, I will do just that with Louis Clark Brock. This speedy left fielder first came to my notice through two Topps Highlights/Record Breaker cards any player would love to be on.
NOT BAD FOR AN OLD GUY!
Let’s start with the first, Brock’s (then) single season record for stolen bases. Here is a look at the top ten single seasons since 1900, with the player’s age noted as well.
MOST STOLEN BASES, SEASON, SINCE 1900
The two things that stand out to me are 1) that Lou Brock set his single season record when he was 35 years old, and 2) that he still holds second place even after an era that featured such speedsters as Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson, Tim Raines, and Vince Coleman.
Regarding the first point, here are the top single season stolen base totals by players age 33 and up. Half the list is Lou Brock!
MOST STOLEN BASES, SEASON, SINCE 1900, AGE 33 AND UP
THE CAREER MARK
Next, let’s look at Brock’s (then) career record for stolen bases. When Brock finished the 1977 season as the career leader in stolen bases, here was the top 10, again restricting data to post-1900.
MOST STOLEN BASES, CAREER, 1900-1977
|1||Lou Brock||900||active beyond 1977 season|
|5||Honus Wagner||639||excludes 84 SBs from 1897-1899|
|7||Bert Campaneris||580||active beyond 1977 season|
|8||Joe Morgan||554||active beyond 1977 season|
What stands out in this table is that players 2-5 (Cobb, Collins, Carey, and Wagner) were all long retired before Lou Brock was even born. And as for players 6-10, none were even within 300 steals of Brock’s record.
Just how unusual was it in Brock’s time to hold the single season and career records in a major category? The 1979 Topps “All-Time Record Holders” subset answers that question, with Lou Brock being the only player to fill two halves of the same card.
THE 3000 HIT CLUB
While his 1979 Topps card was his final standard issue card in a major release, Brock was featured along with Carl Yastrzemski on a “1979 Highlights” card within the 1980 Topps set. Brock and Yaz had become members 14 and 15 respectively of one of baseball’s most celebrated clubs. Given the 100+ year history of Major League Baseball to that point, it might have seemed a rarity for two players to crack the club the very same year. Oddly, of the 13 members preceding Brock/Yaz, there had already been three such pairings, and there would subsequently be two others:
- 1914 – Honus Wagner/Napoleon Lajoie
- 1925 – Tris Speaker/Eddie Collins
- 1970 – Hank Aaron/Willie Mays
- 1979 – Lou Brock/Carl Yastrzemski
- 1992 – George Brett/Robin Yount
- 1999 – Tony Gwynn/Wade Boggs
On June 15, 1964, Lou Brock was part of one of the worst trades in baseball history, so much so that the phrase “Brock for Broglio” is still used today to refer to an entirely lopsided transaction between clubs. Brock proved to be just the spark the Cards needed, batting .348 with St. Louis that year and leading them to their first World Series since 1946. While hardly a one-man team, Brock nonetheless would play a key role in the Cardinals mini-dynasty that won rings in 1964 and 1967 and lost a squeaker to the Tigers in 1968. With all three series going the full seven games, Brock amassed 21 World Series games to his name, an impressive total for a player not on the Yankees or Dodgers.
Brock’s postseason numbers were pretty amazing: a .391 batting average (including .464 in 1968), 4 home runs, 13 home runs, and 14 steals. Here are Lou Brock’s World Series numbers, including a projection to 162 games:
|162 Game Avg||162||671||123||262||54||15||31||100||108||39||77|
ONE OF THE BEST EVER!
Recognizing that today’s Hall of Fame is so large as to be considered bloated, here are some criteria that could certainly restrict membership to a far more elite collection of players:
- Member of one of baseball’s celebrated “clubs” (3000 H, 500 HR, 300 w, 3000 K)
- Holder of single season (modern era) or career record in major offensive (H, HR, RBI, BA, R, SB) or pitching category (W, K, ERA) at time of retirement
- Multiple World Series rings
While I certainly am not proposing such strict criteria be adopted, here are the only members of this ultra-elite circle:
- Babe Ruth
- Lou Brock
- Pete Rose
- Rickey Henderson
I certainly would not confuse the list above with a list of baseball’s four greatest players ever. However, I do believe that all on the list but Ruth are somewhat underrated and that Lou Brock is the most underrated of the group.