Two outstanding Hall of Fame baseball players left us recently – Lou Brock, 81, and Tom Seaver, 75. Their names in the news rekindled some great childhood memories.
When the Milwaukee Braves relocated to Atlanta in 1966, I immediately adopted my hometown team and fell in love with baseball. I couldn’t wait for my Dad to get home from work and play pitch with me. Every Friday, he’d bring home a pack of Topps baseball cards and I started collecting. We attended Atlanta Braves games every year. Henry Aaron became my favorite player.
Through the years, I saw Bob Gibson and his Cardinals, including Brock, Willie Mays and the Giants, Pete Rose and the Reds, Roberto Clemente and the Pirates, Ernie Banks and the Cubs, and other stars.
Brock was a six-time All-Star. Seaver made ten All-Star teams. When the 1972 All-Star game came to Atlanta Stadium, my dad got tickets to the mid-summer classic. We were among the 53,107 fans present. I still have my All-Star game program almost 50 years later.
What a showcase! The American League starting nine featured Rod Carew, Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson, Dick Allen, Carl Yastrzemski, Bobby Gritch, Brooks Robinson, Bill Freehan and Jim Palmer pitching. The Nationals started Joe Morgan, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Lee May, Joe Torre, Don Kessinger and Bob Gibson pitching. These two teams featured twenty-nine future Hall of Fame inductees.
The American League took a 1-0 lead in the third, then came the sixth inning. With two out, Aaron blasted a two-run homer off Gaylord Perry to give the Nationals the lead. In the top of the eighth, Cookie Rojas homered, pulling the American League ahead.
The National League tied it in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. Joe Morgan knocked in Nate Colbert in the bottom of the tenth to clinch a 4-3 win for the National League.
Brock and Seaver made that team, but along with Pittsburg’s Roberto Clemente and a few others, didn’t get into the game. Later that year, Clemente lost his life in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua.
Interestingly, Seaver almost became a Brave. The Braves chose him with the 20th pick of the January 1966 draft. Rules prohibited teams from signing players to a professional contract if their seasons had already started. Seaver’s University of Southern California team had already played exhibition games. The Braves’ front office claimed an honest mistake as USC added games not on the official USC schedule.
Seaver pitched for New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox, finishing with 311 wins, an ERA of 2.86, and 3640 strike outs. He pitched a no hitter for the Reds in 1978.
Brock, a speedster known as a base stealing specialist, set the all-time stolen base record for major league baseball until Rickey Henderson broke it in 1991. Brock finished his career with a .293 batting average, 938 stolen bases and 3023 hits.
Former teammates raved about both men’s accomplishments on the field, but also their contributions as persons. Keith Hernandez, broadcaster for the Mets, talked about what a terrific person Seaver was.
Teammates said Brock was a remarkable man and player, one of the nicest people ever. Albert Pujols tweeted, “Lou Brock was one of the finest men I have ever known . . . he showed us all how to live our lives on and off the field with character and integrity. Lou now enters into the glory of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Well done, thy good and faithful servant” (www.stltoday.com, September 7, 2020).
Baseball writer Tim Kurkjian and his then ten-year-old son ran into Brock in Cooperstown several years ago. Brock talked to them, but mostly to the son, Kurkjian shared, for about twenty minutes, not just about baseball, but mostly about life.
“You have a great smile,” he told Jeff. “Let everyone see it. A great smile can disarm people like nothing else. Smile as much as you can. We don’t smile enough in the world today.” (www.espn.com, September 6, 2020).
Even at their ages, life is short and goes by too fast. When your life on earth ends, what will you be remembered for? What will you leave behind that will outlive your life? What are you doing now that will matter in eternity? Will your relationship with the Lord leave a lasting example?