As a boy, Brock never played organized baseball. Instead of a ball and bat, he swatted rocks with tree branches. But he received an academic scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and played baseball there, catching the attention of Buck O’Neil, the longtime Negro leagues player and manager who was scouting for the Cubs.
The Cubs’ organization signed Brock in August 1960, and he made his major league debut late in the ’61 season. But two summers later, he was batting only .251 and struggling with the Wrigley Field sun as the Cubs’ right fielder. He was considered perhaps the fastest man in the league, but the Cubs were reluctant to turn him loose on the basepaths.
At the 1964 trade deadline, the Cardinals gambled by trading for Brock, hoping that his speed would provide the missing element in an impressive lineup featuring Ken Boyer, Bill White, Curt Flood, Dick Groat and Tim McCarver.
“I thought it was a dumb trade,” the Cardinals’ future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was quoted by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying. “I didn’t know how good Lou would be. No one knew. I didn’t even remember facing him. I heard it and thought, ‘For who? How could you trade Broglio for that?’”
Keane told Brock he wanted him to steal bases, but Brock regarded himself as primarily a power hitter and had his doubts. Keane’s confidence in him nonetheless inspired Brock, who was put in left field, replacing the retired Stan Musial, one of baseball’s greatest hitters.
Playing in 103 games for the ’64 Cardinals, Brock hit .348, stole 33 bases and scored 81 runs. The Cardinals overtook the Philadelphia Phillies in the season’s final to week the pennant, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.
Brock’s Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox in the 1967 World Series and won another pennant in ’68, losing to the Detroit Tigers in the Series.