By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
On top of his 3,000 hits, 938 stolen bases and first-ballot induction in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Lou Brock is also the answer to an important Canadian baseball trivia question.
Who was the first major league player to bat in a regular season game played in Canada?
Leading off for the St. Louis Cardinals, it was Brock who made that historic trek to the plate to face left-hander Larry Jaster in the Montreal Expos’ first home game at Jarry Park on April 14, 1969.
Brock lined out to second baseman Gary Sutherland and the Expos eventually won 8-7, but the Cardinals speedy outfielder would later have considerable success against the Expos in that same park.
The legendary Brock passed away on Sunday at the age of 81. A cause of death has not been released, but Brock was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and had a leg amputated due to diabetes in recent years.
Born in El Dorado, Ark., on June 18, 1939, Brock was the seventh of nine children. His family grew up in poverty in Collinston, La. The story goes that Brock was introduced to baseball after he was ordered to write a book report about the sport as punishment for spitting at a teacher.
By high school, Brock was a standout athlete and he earned a scholarship to Southern University where his baseball skills convinced the Chicago Cubs to sign him on August 22, 1960.
The fleet-footed youngster spent just one season in the club’s minors, but after three-and-a-half so-so big league campaigns, the Cubs dealt him to the Cardinals as part of a larger deal, with former 20-game winner Ernie Broglio being the principal player coming back. The deal is now ranked as one of the most lopsided in major league history. Broglio registered just seven more major league wins over the next three seasons, while Brock blossomed into a perennial All-Star.
Batting second with his new club, Brock hit .348 and registered 146 hits and 33 stolen bases in 103 games down the stretch for the Cardinals in 1964 to lead them to the National League pennant.
In the World Series against the New York Yankees that year, Brock went 9-for-30 (.300) and propelled the Cards to a seven-game series triumph. Over the course of his career, the left-handed hitting outfielder was at his best in World Series play. In the Fall Classic, three years later, he would go 12-for-29 (.414 batting average) with seven stolen bases to lead the Cards over the Red Sox in another seven-game series.
The following year, he went 13-for-28 (.464 batting average) with seven stolen bases in his club’s seven-game World Series loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Brock, of course, also excelled in the regular season, evolving into a sometimes unstoppable offensive and base-stealing threat atop the Cards’ lineup. In all, in 19 major league seasons, he’d bat .293, record 3,023 hits (25th all-time), 938 stolen bases (second all-time) and was a six-time All-Star. He topped the National League in stolen bases eight times and before the end of his career the league had renamed its annual award for most stolen bases after him.
For his efforts, his No. 20 was retired by the Cardinals and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985.
As news of his death spread on Sunday, tributes began pouring in, including one from his fellow Cooperstowner and Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.).
As mentioned earlier, Brock had significant success against the Expos over the years. He also hit well against Canuck pitchers and played alongside some Canadians with the Cardinals.
Here’s a rundown of some of Brock’s Canadian connections:
– In 170 games against the Expos, Brock batted .302. This is his third-highest batting average against a big league club, behind the Cubs (.334) and Braves (.304). He recorded 201 of his 3,023 big league hits against the Expos and also swiped 67 bases against the Canadian club.
– Though he went 0-for-5 in the first Expos’ home game at Jarry Park, he persevered to record 84 hits – including 14 doubles and three home runs – and bat .300 in 66 games at the stadium. He also recorded 27 stolen bases there. He was less successful at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, batting .231 with six stolen bases in 14 games.
– Brock had three, four-hit games against the Expos (June 19, 1969; June 27, 1975 and May 28, 1977). The June 27, 1975 contest took place at Jarry Park. Brock went 4-for-5 with a double. three singles and a stolen base in the Expos’ 5-4 win that day. Also of note in the May 28, 1977 game at Busch Stadium, one of Brock’s four hits was a single off Bill Atkinson (Chatham, Ont.) in the fourth inning.
– Speaking of hitting against Canadian pitchers, Brock, because there was no Interleague play during his career, never faced Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) in a regular season game. He did, however, hit against the Detroit Tigers lefty twice in the 1968 World Series and had hits in both at bats. Brock singled off Hiller in the eighth inning of Game 3 at Tiger Stadium that the Cards won 7-3. But even more memorably, Brock came up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of Game 4 versus Hiller and clubbed a three-run double.
– Brock also had extensive experience facing Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.). He had 32 hits in 114 at bats against Jenkins, good for a .281 batting average. That’s the seventh-most hits and at bats Brock had against any big league pitcher. Among those 32 hits were six doubles, three triples, and two home runs.
– Overall, Brock fared well against Canadian pitchers. The Canuck hurler he had the most success against was Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.). Brock was 10-for-23 (.435 batting average) with two home runs and two doubles against the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. He also collected 10 hits (in 36 at bats) against Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.). His aforementioned single against Atkinson was Brock’s only hit against the Chatham, Ont., native.
– By my research, Brock had three Canadian teammates with the Cardinals: Ron Taylor (1964-65), Ron Piche (Verdun, Que., 1966) and Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask., 1969 to 1973).
– And it’s thanks to Expos blog on Twitter, that I learned only three years ago that the Expos hired Brock as a baserunning coach in 1993. The 1993 Expos finished 94-68 and in second place in the National League East division and Brock’s tutelage seemed to pay off. The Expos had eight players with 12 or more stolen bases that season, including Marquis Grissom (53), Delino Deshields (43), Maple Ridge, B.C., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker (29), Mike Lansing (23), Moises Alou (17), Lou Frazier (17), Wil Cordero (12) and Sean Berry (12).