You might remember Lou Brock as the good half of one of baseball’s most lopsided trades ever, when the Chicago Cubs gave up on their young outfielder and sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 15, 1964.
Baseball cards of the era seem to capture the general mood just about right. Brock’s 1964 Topps issue (#29) shows him pensive if not a little miffed, while his 1965 Topps card features a beaming young man ready to step into the spotlight of superstardom.
A year after that first of Brock’s Cardinals pasteboards appeared in wax packs, St. Louis welcomed another new startto their baseball firmament: Busch Memorial Stadium.
After playing 46 seasons in old Sportsman’s Park — later renamed Busch Stadium — the Cardinals opened 1966 as one of baseball’s model franchises and on the verge of christening a new ballpark.
Finally, on May 12 and with 23 games already in the book, the Cards returned from a road trip and welcomed fans to their
new home for a four-game series with the Atlanta Braves, Thursday through Sunday.
In the opener, Cardinals’ right-hander Ray Washburn faced off against Braves’ left Wade Blasingame in a matchup of middle-to-back-of-the-rotation guys that inspired scant excitement in itself. It didn’t help that the Cards entered the game with a 10-14 record, while the Braves stood at 14-15.
As would become the case throughout most of Busch Stadium’s history — it closed after the 2005 season — runs were hard to come by on that “opening day”.
The Cardinals broke out with two runs in the bottom of the third inning, but the Braves answered with one in each of the fourth, sixth, and eighth innings. Only a two-out RBI single by shortstop Jerry Buchek in the bottom of the ninth kept the Cards’ hopes alive, and pinch hitter (!) Bob Gibson kept the rally going with a follow-up single of his own. Alas, leadoff man Julio Javier grounded out to send the game into extra innings.
The teams battled on through the 10th and 11th, both clubs getting men on base, but both failing to score. In the top of the 12th, the Braves put men on first and second with two out and a chance to take the lead, but Felipe Alou flied out to right field.
Then came the bottom of the 12th, and the Cardinals were ready again to go for the win.
Curt Flood led off and took first base when Phil Niekro hit him with a pitch.
Orlando Cepeda followed up and grounded into a fielder’s choice — but an error by Braves’ catcher Joe Torre landed Cepeda on second base and Flood on third.
To this point in the game, future Hall of Famer Lou Brock had been a non-factor. Alex Johnson had started in left field and, when the Cards had threatened in the bottom of the tenth, manager Red Schoendienst brought in Bob Skinner to pinch hit.
Skinner flied out, which opened the door for Brock to come in as a defensive replacement for the 11th.
Here, in the bottom of the 12th, with two on and no one out, Brock waited in the on-deck circle as third baseman Charley Smith strode to the plate. Smith had a smidge of power and was hitting in the upper .300s early in the 1966 season, which apparently was enough for Niekro and Braves’ manager Bobby Bragan to view him as a real threat: Niekro walked Smith on four straight pitches so that he could get to Brock.
Whether Brock saw that move as yet another slight or just a challenge, we may never know, but we do know that he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, no one out, and a chance to win the game — the first game ever at Busch Memorial Stadium.
And that’s exactly what he did, dropping a single into center field to drive in Curt Flood with the winning run.
In many ways, Busch Stadium became Brock Stadium over the next 14 seasons, and it all began on a day when he was overlooked — twice — again.
The man wouldn’t be denied, though, and made the most of his opportunities.
Is it any wonder, then, that Lou Brock is smiling on his St. Louis Cardinals baseball cards?