That's all? "It has been years of practice and torture for me," Brock says. "I know now what I can do and what I can't do. As a young runner I used to gamble a lot. Now I go with my bread and butter. Through the years I've made adjustments, and so have the pitchers. After readjusting, some have stopped me cold. But I'm not stupid. I change."
There are, says Brock, several pitchers he cannot run against. "A few don't let me get on base," he says, "so I never can steal against them. Then there are enigmas like Jim Barr of the Giants and Don Gullett of the Reds. I can't analyze Barr's style and put it back together, so I don't steal on him." Brock says Gullett contains him because he doesn't do the unexpected. " Gullett never throws over to first, but in the back of my mind I always expect him to, so I stay close against him and don't try much." His record against Gullett this year is 0 for 0.
The rule book says the distance between first and second is 90 feet. But that is a false standard. "What it really is," says Brock, "is 13 steps. When I came up with the Cubs in 1961 my manager, Lou Klein, told me that, and I didn't believe him. I was a math major in college, and I was positive he was wrong. But it was 13 steps that day—and it has been 13 steps every day since." When he leaves first Brock moves his left foot over his right—"that's automatic"—and 13 steps later he is sliding into second. "I stay up as long as possible and make my slide as short as possible," he says. "I don't steal the base as much as I take it. To me the word steal contains the element of surprise and I don't surprise anyone when I head for second base. The other clubs would be surprised if I didn't."
Can Brock break Wills' record? Brock has his doubts. He is ahead of Wills' pace, but Wills stole 56 bases in his last 66 games. Then there is the matter of late-season wear and tear. Although he wore special sliding pads, the pain of the pounding kept Wills awake at night. Maury himself muses, "Even though Lou says he doesn't think he'll break the record, I think he's just being coy. He's clever enough to know that might make a pitcher or catcher relax for an instant."
At present Brock ranks No. 5 on the game's list of all-time base stealers, trailing, in order, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Max Carey and Honus Wagner. Through 12 full seasons Brock has averaged 53 stolen bases a year, far more than any modern player. And now, in mid-July, he has already surpassed that figure. Shouldn't he be slowing down instead of speeding up at the age of 35?
"I may be one step slower nowadays," Brock says, "but I think I'm still one step ahead of the crowd."