August 13, 1979: Lou Brock collects his 3,000th career hit in resurgent final season

Technically, Lou Brock’s pursuit of 3,000 career hits began September 10, 1962, when he singled in his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs. However, the Cardinals legend didn’t give serious thought to the milestone until speaking to Detroit Tigers outfielder Al Kaline in 1974.

That season, the 40-year-old Kaline had reached the milestone in the final campaign of his career, the same year that Brock set a major league record with 118 stolen bases.

“I’d met Al on the banquet circuit that winter and congratulated him,” Brock said. “He told me, ‘I think you can do it too,’ and I looked it up. Pete Rose was doing a lot of talking – early – about getting to 3,000, averaging 195 hits a year, as I recall, and I looked up my own figures and saw where I’d had 191 for an average.”[1]

On August 13, 1979, Brock, now 40 years old himself, was just two hits shy of 3,000 entering that night’s game against his former team, the Cubs. Just one year earlier, Brock slumped early in the season and lost his starting job in left field. His batting average fell to a career-low .221 as he appeared in just 92 games.

In April, Brock announced that 1979 would be his final season, but instead of quietly fading away in the year that followed, Brock returned to form. After a teammate pointed out late in 1978 that he was hitting off his back foot,[2] Brock made an adjustment and not only regained his starting job in 1979 but even earned a trip to the all-star game. He was batting .321 and already had 10 hits in the Cardinals’ eight games that month.

“What he’s going through is a lesson to all of us,” rookie Cardinals pitcher John Fulgham said. “Not many guys can go through something the magnitude of this. Think of all the great athletes and what they did. Hank Aaron only went through it once. Willie Mays only went through it once, but Lou’s gone through it three times (counting his career and single-season stolen base records) and the guy hasn’t changed a bit. He’s something. I’m glad to be a part of this scene.”[3]

So were the 44,457 fans at Busch Stadium that night, including approximately 20,000 who purchased their tickets that day to see Brock pursue history.[4] The game was delayed 15 minutes to accommodate the late rush for tickets.[5]

“That’s an amazing thing about Lou, there’s no difference in him,” first baseman Keith Hernandez said. “Absolutely no difference. He’s so even-keel you’d never know what was at stake.”[6]

Brock got hit number 2,999 against Cubs starter Dennis Lamp in the first inning. Garry Templeton led off the bottom of the first with a single before Brock hit a line drive into left field. With runners on first and third, Hernandez grounded into a double play that scored Templeton and gave the Cardinals an early lead.

The score was still 1-0 when Brock led off the fourth. Lamp got ahead in the count 0-2, missed with a pitch off the plate, then came high and inside with a brushback pitch that knocked Brock to the dirt.

“It kind of jarred me back to reality,” Brock said of the pitch. “After that, it made me realize that I wasn’t concentrating as much as I had to.”[7]

On a 2-2 count, Brock lined Lamp’s pitch – a low curveball – back up the middle. It appeared destined for center field until the 6-foot-4 Lamp reached out with his pitching hand and deflected the ball, sending it toward third base for an infield single.

With his second hit of the day, Brock became just the 14th player in major league history to reach 3,000.

“I waited 19 years for this moment,” he said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time because both hits were instrumental in a team victory. I’d hoped it would happen this way.”[8]

With the milestone, Brock joined Ty Cobb, Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Rose, Mays, Nap Lajoie, Paul Waner, Cap Anson, Kaline, and Roberto Clemente. As the injured Lamp was led away, Brock teammates and photographers surrounded Brock to celebrate the milestone. Musial, who also had collected his 3,000th career hit against the Cubs in 1958, stepped onto the field alongside owner August A. Busch Jr. to congratulate Brock.

“You look at Lou’s career and you envy it. I do. I think most players do,” said Ted Simmons, a future Hall of Famer in his own right. “I’ve enjoyed every ballgame I’ve ever played with him. What he’s done has been remarkable. It’s sad to think of him retiring, but it’s nice to see him going out on the right end of the game. There are too many players who don’t.”[9]

Despite the milestone, there was still a game to be played. Doug Capilla entered the game in place of Lamp and got Hernandez to ground the ball to Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner, who threw Brock out at second base. With Simmons at the plate, Hernandez advanced to second on an error, then scored when George Hendrick singled into center field.

Pete Vuckovich held the Cubs scoreless through the first six innings. Chicago got on the scoreboard with back-to-back doubles by Steve Dillard and Larry Biittner to lead off the seventh inning. After Ivan de Jesus singled, Vuckovich was replaced with Will McEnaney. Pinch hitter Mike Vail lined out to left field to score Bittner and tie the game 2-2.

The game remained deadlocked until the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Ken Reitz singled for the 1,000th hit of his career and was replaced by pinch-runner Tom Herr. Cubs reliever Willie Hernandez hit the Cardinals’ next batter, Ken Oberkfell. With runners on first and second, Chicago called upon its stopper, Bruce Sutter, while Cardinals manager Ken Boyer called upon Dane Iorg to bat for relief pitcher Mark Littell, who had thrown scoreless eighth and ninth innings.

Iorg singled to load the bases, and with one out, Templeton lifted a fly ball into left field that scored Herr and sent the Busch Stadium crowd home happy.

Nonetheless, even a walk-off win wasn’t enough to turn the attention away from Brock’s 3,000th hit and his legacy as one of baseball’s all-time great players – and great people.

“Nothing surprises me about Lou,” pitcher Bob Forsch said. “He plays with incredible intensity, but there have been a lot of great baseball players. The thing I’ll remember most about Lou is how helpful he’s always been. I know he made me feel welcome, and I’ve seen him do the same with other players.

“I’ll never forget seeing him take Jimmy Dwyer out into left field a couple of years ago. He was showing him how to play the bounce off the wet turf. This was another guy they were bringing up to take Lou’s position, and he was out there helping him. But I guess a lot of guys were supposed to take his job at one time or another. He’s still out there though, isn’t he?”[10]

Indeed, Brock appeared in 120 games that season on his way to comeback player of the year honors. With 123 hits on the year, he finished with a .304 batting average.

As promised, Brock retired after the season with 3,023 hits, 938 stolen bases, and a career .293 batting average. A six-time all-star, Brock was at his best in the postseason, batting .391 (34-for-92) with four homers, 13 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases in 21 World Series games. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985.

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[1] Bob Broeg, “Brock Saw 3,000 As Symbolic Legacy,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Brock’s 3rd Jewel Is Winner For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Brock’s 3rd Jewel Is Winner For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[4] Tom Barnidge, “When The Moment Arrived, It Seemed Time Stood Still,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Brock’s 3rd Jewel Is Winner For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[6] Tom Barnidge, “When The Moment Arrived, It Seemed Time Stood Still,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Brock’s 3rd Jewel Is Winner For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[8] Bob Logan, “Brock 19-year wait ends in glory,” Chicago Tribune, August 14, 1979.

[9] Tom Barnidge, “When The Moment Arrived, It Seemed Time Stood Still,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

[10] Tom Barnidge, “When The Moment Arrived, It Seemed Time Stood Still,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1979.

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