Say It Ain’t So, Lou Brock!

Curse you, Internet, for destroying a precious childhood memory: Lou Brock’s inside-the-park home run. Oh, the devastation, humiliation and lamentation despite the often-hapless Cubs sweeping the vaunted San Francisco Giants in five games at Wrigley Field all those decades ago.

Topps 274: Lou Brock 1963. © Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

Topps 274: Lou Brock 1963. © Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

It was June 5, 1963, when Dad, brother Chuck and I rode the Burlington’s Morning Zephyr into Chicago and took a cab from Union Station to the hallowed ballpark on the North Side. The Cubbies thumped the Giants on Tuesday, and on this Wednesday we settled in for an afternoon double-header (there were no lights at Wrigley then, so every game was a day game).

Our box seats sat not far from third base and the Cubs dugout, which made it easy to collect a few autographs before the game although not from any of the big stars. The Cubs didn’t have a manager in that era preferring a coaching committee led by Head Coach Bob Kennedy. I also snagged signatures from journeyman outfield Don Landrum and newcomers Jim Stewart and Billy Cowan, both so new they weren’t listed in the Official Program and wouldn’t make their major league debuts until September.1963-Brock-tickets

Then there was right fielder Lou Brock, who turns 75 today. Then a kid of 23 showing promise in his third major league season, he later became a first-ballot member of the Hall of Fame. The speed demon holds the No. 2 spot in career stolen bases with 938, the World Series record for base thefts at seven and is among the players to pass the 3,000-hits hurdle. Not one but two statues honor him, and he remains a revered figure–among St. Louis Cardinal fans.1963-Brock-autograph

Lou only played for the Cubs from late in the 1961 season into the middle of the 1964 campaign when he and two pitchers were traded away to St. Louis for pitcher Ernie Broglio, another pitcher and an outfielder. Broglio, who’d won 17 games the previous season and 21 two years earlier, turned out to have injured his arm worse than he let on. Brock immediately led the Cardinals to winning the World Series in a stellar career lasting another 15 years. The term “Brock for Broglio” became baseball shorthand for a lopsided deal and stands among the darkest events of Cub history.

But that was in the future, and all was bright and hopeful at Wrigley in the spring of ’63. The Giants struck first in the opening game with Willie Mays clobbering a two-run home run in the first. Leftie Don Ellsworth returned the favor by hitting Willie with a pitch his next at bat. The Cubbies won 9-5 as Brock went 3-for-5 including a home run in the sixth, Ernie Banks hit two dingers and Kenny Hubbs and Billy Williams slammed one each. This is gloriously recorded with a No. 2 pencil in the Official Program scorecard I filled out.

Lou Brock homered again in the second game leading off the bottom of the first with dazzling speed by clocking the rare inside-the-park home run logged on my scorecard. The Cubs eked out a 5-4 victory and went on to win again on Thursday and Friday. The five-game sweep ranked high in another so-so season as the Cubs finished seventh among the 10 National League teams barely topping .500 with 82 wins and 80 losses.

I don’t normally write sports history and fell into today’s topic only because my autograph book from back then surfaced recently. So I dug out the scorecards from the 1963 doubleheader, which of course show Brock’s inside-the-park homer, a milestone in my youthful Cubbie fandom and a scene I’ve described many times to many people over the years.

But was that the first or second game that afternoon? Memory failed, but the Internet wouldn’t let me down in clarifying that, would it? Not too many clicks later I scanned complete box scores and more statistics than you’d want me to pack in here and determined it wasn’t the first game. But while Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda hit back-to-back homers for San Francisco in the second game, there were no home runs, zero, by Brock or any other Cub. Say it ain’t so! Further digging revealed the unrealized truth of what a 12-year-old scorekeeper recorded at Wrigley Field: while I credited Lou with a home run, the official scorer only gave him only a triple attributing the scamper across home plate to an error by Giants third baseman Jim Davenport.

A Heileman's Old Style afternoon in the Cactus League: Cubs 3-Giants 2 in 10 innings at Hohokam Park, Mesa, Ariz., March 20, 2011.

A Heileman’s Old Style afternoon in the Cactus League: Cubs 3-Giants 2 in 10 innings at Hohokam Park, Mesa, Ariz., March 20, 2011.

As if being a Cub fan isn’t punishment enough, my memory of watching one of baseball’s greatest players tag all four bases on a shot to the ivy-covered wall tumbled from the memorabilia shelf. Anyone forced to listen to the inside-the-park-homer story over the years will now doubt my credibility when weaving old-time sports tales (thankfully I don’t fish). But I’ll tell you what. Back then I was too young to be drinking G. Heileman’s Old Style, which I’ll suggest was flowing freely in the press box and at the scorer’s table. Plus I had a closer view of third base than anyone upstairs. So maybe I’ll just let my scoring stand. And besides, can you really trust everything you find on the Internet?

2 thoughts on “Say It Ain’t So, Lou Brock!

  1. Bill:
    Another well written, “real” story. Thanks.
    The Brock trade reminds me of the time when my team, the Giants, traded Orlando Cepeda to the Cards for Ray Sidecki in 1965. Never understood that.

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