As a businessman and a celebrity, Lou Brock accepts it as inevitable that he, an expert at marketing products, should himself become a product expertly marketed. Still, being both a salesman and for sale does lead to some confusion of roles. Here, on the office blower to some far-flung operative, is L. C. Brock, president of Lu-Wan Enterprises, Inc. of St. Louis:
"Going back to Pepsi, what did Pepsi say?" Pause for a tiny metallic voice on the other end of the line. "No, nobody in New York is authorized to negotiate on my behalf.... What's that? How many?" With a fingernail file, L. C. Brock taps out some computations on his wrist-watch-calculator. "Well, they should be happy. They've got 200 dozen. They're looking at total dollars without realizing what the cost is.... Let me get a recap here...."
And here is Richman Bry, round-faced, fast-talking president of Bry & Associates, Ltd. of St. Louis, whose job it is to sell Lou Brock, star base stealer of the St. Louis Cardinals, to the lords of the media and high commerce. Base stealer Brock sits with his hands folded as Bry says, "We are looking to uncover any area that will be productive for Lou. We will not make an exclusive deal with any company until we can be sure we have the right association, like the one O.J. has with Hertz. We see Lou becoming the exclusive spokesman for a major business. That's the best kind of deal, one that involves the athlete totally. After he breaks the record, we see posters and T shirts with his name on them."
The record Bry has in mind is one that, until very recently, was considered unassailable—Ty Cobb's career total of 892 stolen bases. Although Brock is now 38 and slower afoot than he once was, sometime in the next few weeks he should crack this hoary standard (at the end of last week he needed only six steals to do so), thereby unleashing what Bry gleefully envisions as a veritable cornucopia of lucrative business opportunities, surpassing even those that attended Henry Aaron's succession to the Sultanate of Swat three years ago. Brock is not ordinarily a seeker of undue attention, but he realizes that he is embarked on a historic adventure and he accepts its conditions—including a personal-appearance schedule that rivals Billy Carter's—with characteristic good humor and philosophic detachment.
"Sure, I feel like a piece of property," says Brock, "but I have control over what happens to me. It doesn't bother me. We're all promoters in a way. I haven't seen a guy in this game yet who didn't promote himself. And this is only going to happen once in my life. It is the challenge of the moment."
Cobb's lifetime total is virtually the only major stolen-base record Brock does not already possess. He is the National League career leader. Three years ago, amid a hullabaloo comparable to the one he now anticipates, he stole 118 bases, thereby exceeding Maury Wills' single-season record of 104, which in turn had exceeded Cobb's 96. Brock is tied with Hall of Famer Eddie Collins with 14 steals in the World Series, but it took Collins 34 games to get his, while Brock required only 21. He has stolen 50 or more bases in a season 12 times, and in successive years—both major league records. And now he is bearing down on Cobb, a man who, aside from a rural Southern upbringing and a passion for commerce (he got rich on Coca-Cola stock), had even less in common with Brock than the sybaritic Ruth had with the circumspect Aaron. Cobb was everything Brock is not—a racist, a truculent, profane, suspicious, humorless bully, of whom it was said by Al Stump, who collaborated with Cobb on his autobiography, "He was the most violent, successful, thoroughly maladjusted personality ever to pass across American sports." Cobb's teammate Sam Crawford once tried mightily to say something nice about him, but the best he could do was grumble, "He sure wasn't easy to get along with. He wasn't a friendly, good-natured guy." Even Mike Marshall is a charmer in comparison. Brock is a saint. "Lou is one of the nicest, finest men ever to play this game," says his teammate and fellow star Ted Simmons.
Indeed, Brock's amiability is almost as legendary as Cobb's irascibility. He always makes himself available. He is a frequent speaker at public functions, a willing promoter of his team and an eager participant, both personally and financially, in charitable projects, such as the Lou Brock Boys Club. He is available for interviews not only to media stars, but also to youngsters from small-town weeklies and to college kids with tape recorders. His responses to questions are invariably lively, thoughtful, sometimes even surprising. Interviewed before a recent game by one Dick Pryor of station KNOR in Norman, Okla., Brock chattered on so informatively and at such length on the Oklahoma Sooners' prospects for the coming football season that Pryor finally had to intervene and request that he say a little something about himself. A broadcaster from WSIU, the campus radio station at Southern Illinois University, approached Brock during batting practice one day last month. Agreeable as ever, Brock interrupted his swings as the young man thrust a microphone before him. "Lou," he began with abrupt familiarity, "you've been asked a thousand questions. Is there one you've always wanted to be asked that you haven't?" Brock smiled. "I've been asked that question," he said.
In the clubhouse, where what passes for polite discourse would embarrass a career noncom in the Marine Corps, Brock is rarely heard to say anything more scabrous than "Oh, gosh." If he has a rhetorical weakness it is for the bromides of the boardroom. He favors such expressions as: "Back to the drawing board" and "We'll have to examine the whole spectrum and channel our resources." He "finalizes" things and "subjects" them to "analysis." He deals in "concepts" and is convinced that one thing is almost always "predicated" on another. He has a particular affection for syntactical doubling up, sometimes to the point of redundancy. People are "defiant-and-aggressive," brimming with "ambition-and-purpose," in search of "fulfillment-and-enjoyment," blessed with "pride-and-self-esteem," and haunted by "wishes-and-desires."
His extensive involvement in the business world would seem to account for this lamentable jargon. Lu-Wan (named for his children—Lou Jr., 13, and Wanda, 15) is principally involved in the marketing of an umbrella hat called the BroccaBrella. That is not a misspelling, because, according to Brock, the hat is not named for him. "We just thought BroccaBrella had a nice lilt to it," he says. A BroccaBrella is a headband from which a miniature umbrella springs. It looks just absurd enough to have genuine fad potential, a phenomenon Lu-Wan patiently awaits. "We have taken a concept that first appeared in 1879," says Brock, employing executive-suite patois, "and we've spent two years researching and redesigning it. We've created a need for it and a new kind of general distribution." The hat, he says, is designed to protect its wearer from extensive exposure to the sun, and it is also useful in the event of unexpected showers. Fishermen use BroccaBrellas, Brock says, so do occupants of the bleachers. Those who wear it look like coolies with a flair for color. Lu-Wan also envisions such BroccaBrella spin-offs as T shirts and matching sport shirts. A whole new industry could flourish under the hat. "It's the umbrella concept," Brock says inadvertently. He laughs. "Oh, gosh...."
The BroccaBrella is not Brock's only business interest. He is a consultant for the Converse Rubber Corp., makers of a sneaker called the Player 118 L-T (for lateral traction), which Brock developed. He acts also as a consultant for Bry & Associates, recruiting new clients by interesting athletes in Bry's "personal management concept." And he owns a florist shop and a sporting-goods store. Anyone who spends as much time as he does with advertising men and junior executives may be forgiven if his associates' jargon creeps into his own delivery. Besides, Brock does not talk that way all the time. In fact, he is usually quite particular about language. If a word escapes him, he will pause until it returns, filling in the gap with the complaint, "Now, what is that word I want?" When discussing base stealing, his language seems more indebted to computer science than to business. He is as technical on this topic as might be expected of one who has spent years putting the stopwatch and the movie camera to his adversaries, the pitchers and catchers.