A Salute to Baseball Pioneer Lou Brock
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Those were the words uttered on Sunday as Major League Baseball began its 139th season. “America’s favorite pastime” has grown tremendously throughout the years and, on April 15, we will celebrate 67 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.
Quite a bit has also happened in the last 67 years and there have been some interesting stories.
I had a fascinating conversation with Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock about a month ago. We talked about his great career with the St. Louis Cardinals and his days playing baseball at Southern University helping lead the Jaguars to the NAIA championship in 1959.
As a matter of fact, Brock went to Southern not to play baseball, but on an academic scholarship. With a C+ average his first year, his academic scholarship was revoked, and he tried out for the baseball team to stay in school.
The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the things that also struck me is that Mr. Brock has been invited and gone to the White House many times, but not under President Obama.
On August 13, 1979, Brock became the 14th player in Major League Baseball history to amass 3,000 hits in a career.
The feat happened against the Chicago Cubs, the team that traded him 15 years earlier, in one of the best/worst trades in professional sports history. Cubs fans, perhaps you would have won a World Series by now? In case you were wondering, St. Louis won the World Series the year of the trade.
About a month later, Carl Yastrzemski got his 3,000th hit and was invited to the White House by then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.
Brock, who had accomplished the same feat and had not been invited, understandably felt slighted.
“I would have difficulty going at this time,” Brock told another reporter when asked if he would go to the White House shortly after the snub if he were invited. “Three thousand hits is the same on the field, but the difference is in the mind of man.”
Brock eventually reconsidered after being invited. As a matter of fact, he has spent a lot of time at the White House in the 35 years since with Presidents George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
“I never went under [President] Reagan,” recalls Brock, “although I did get a letter from him. … I’ve never gone under [President] Obama at this time. Most Presidents are baseball fans. Obama happens to be the one that’s not.”
Brock went on to tell the story of how President Obama came to greet him and other Cardinals during the opening ceremonies of the 2009 MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis. He also talked about how one of the biggest rivalries in baseball was between the Cardinals and the Cubs and how President Obama came on the field in a Chicago White Sox jacket.
“There were six or seven of us Cardinals Hall of Famers and we were looking at him with this jacket on,” says Brock. He recalls the great Bob Gibson saying “it could be worse; he could have a Cubs jacket on.”
We got a laugh out of that.
Brock has saluted all of the Presidents he has met and relished the opportunity to do so with President Obama, although he was a little nervous to do so because it was not part of the on-field script. He was able to do it anyway.
Mr. President, Lou Brock is not only one of the greatest baseball players ever, he is a gentleman, an ambassador for baseball, a spokesman for diabetes, a stalwart in the St. Louis community. Like Jackie Robinson, Earl Lloyd, Hank Aaron and many others, he experienced even more racism when approaching Ty Cobb’s stolen bases record in 1977.
It’s been 35 years since his almost snub from being invited to the White House. And even though he has saluted the President in person, I think he would be thrilled to receive a White House invitation.
Mr. President, please invite Lou Brock to the White House.
Listen to Box to Row on Fridays 1p ET/10a PT on SiriusXM Channel 141 and Saturdays 12p/9a PT on SiriusXM Channel 142. You can follow Donal Ware on Twitter @dware1 and @boxtorow. Please share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.