(Busch Stadium) While their task at hand is to focus on a victory in the game against Boston, the St. Louis Cardinals were looking forward to the pregame ceremonies and a chance to see the 1967 World Champions honored.
“Those are some legendary names in that group,” said Mike Matheny, who broke into a big smile when asked if Bob Gibson had brought him some more notes for them to go over.
“You know, he bent my ear pretty long in spring so I think we’re all caught up, up to that point,” said Matheny. “That was probably one of the highlights of my career. He came in and started telling stories. I almost told David Bell that he was managing that day because I’m not going to stop him from continuing to tell the stories. Just special people.
“I mean, the ability–I told some of our guys on the bench that day, you guys are going to be able to tell your grandkids that you had some interaction with the likes of a Gibson, a Brock, the Schoendiensts. It’s just incredible and something we don’t take lightly around here.”
Kolten Wong broke into a similar smile when asked about Lou Brock.
“Lou is always–I mean, I wish I could play like how Lou told me how he plays,” he said. “The guy goes out there and he would tell me ‘hey, go out there and have fun’. When you hear it from Lou’s voice and when he says it, it’s like, you know Lou, I wish I was you. I wish I could go out there and have fun as much as you do. What an amazing guy. He’s taught me so much about base running and just the game in general.”
Obviously not in the ballpark, but another pupil who benefited from the teachings of Brock is Albert Pujols.
“He spent almost an hour and half, two hours–teaching me how to cut the corner,” shared Pujols last season. “Especially from second base on the base hit and on the double, how to go to first to third and all that. I did it, I took advantage. I think I lead the league in ’03, ’04, maybe ’05 in runs scored and a lot of that, I give that credit to Lou because he taught me how to run, how to cut those bases. I think if I want to learn from anybody, I’ll learn from the best and that was Lou.”
But the teachings from Brock began well before his trips to Spring Training as a guest instructor. Look no further than Orlando Cepeda.
“Probably the best example of the Lou Brock tendency to have things rub off the right way,” explained Tim McCarver of his 1967 teammates on the Cardinals. “He made Cepeda a better base runner because Orlando had bad feet, bad ankles, and bad knees. Not really good things to have if you’re going to be a good base runner. Yet he would kind of limp off the bag at first and then boom! He would steal a base.”
In 1959, Cepeda stole 23 bases, but hadn’t topped double digit steals for the four years prior to 1967. That season he stole 11 bases for St. Louis.
That’s six decades of impact from Brock, not as a player, but as a teacher.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Wong. “Even the things that he says, you would think throughout time, people would start figuring out what these guys are doing that made them so successful. But when he says something, it’s like ‘I never heard that before’. And it clicks. It’s just things that these guys throw back, you forget the simplicity of the game and how to break it down and make it that easy game that you’ve played since you were a kid. Lou understands that and he never went too far from it and I think that’s what makes it so special–the fact that he still plays it like he was a kid and when he talks about it’s like having fun as a kid.”
The impact of Cepeda has also spanned generations–most recently touching Aledmys Diaz, as the two were introduced sharing a car together at the Winter Warm-Up.
“Great guy,” smiled Diaz. “He told me about ’67 and how actually he was the MVP. It’s real sad for us that we don’t have the chance as a country to see those great players in the 60’s and 70’s. But he’s great.
“I think this organization is great. I had the chance in Spring Training to share moments with Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, and then Cepeda. It’s a great environment here–bringing guys back and recognizing them.”
“Keep playing the game hard and the right way. He said he saw a lot of games, actually he saw every Cardinals game. He knew me last year. It’s great to have the chance to talk with those guys and share a moment with them.”