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Lou Brock takes the 'retirement' step easy as stealing a base

Lou Brock is schedueld to arrive at 8:15 in the morning, a ghastly hour for most latesleeping major league baseball players. But Brock is a former major league now and a schedule-conscious businessman to boot, so he shows up for his interview appointment seven minutes early -- the better to make an eventual 10: 30 flight out of Boston.

The greatest base stealer in history has made a smooth break from the game, retiring to a full schedule of sports marketing and programming assignments. Lately, he's been on the road for a brewing company presenting an award to a player on each major league team.

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Lou finds it an ideal way to stay close to the game, get around to all the ballparks, and, as he puts it, to "trade exaggerated war stories."

"Toward the end of my career I had stolen 900-plus based, but yesterday I heard a thousand, then a million. . . .," he says, his speech dissolving into laughter.

For the record, Brock had 938 thefts during 19 years in the majors, spent mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. His best year on the basepaths came in 1974, when with 118 stolen bases he obliterated Maury Will's old single- season record of 104.

Though Wills recently achieved a goal of his by landing a managing job with the Seattle Mariners, Lou has no such aspirations.

"If I had any interest in coming back to baseball it owuld be as a general manager and not as a manager," he indicates, adding that this ambitious lie beyond the foul lines.

For the past 12 years he has operated his own business, a small firm that has marketed his Broccabrellas (hat-like umbrellas) among other products. Lou has also been getting a taste of broadcasting, including some Monday Night baseball telecasts and a number of Cardinal TV games.

Such assignments have certainly made it easier to adjust to life after baseball. "I've really been too close to it to miss it," he says.

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The transition isn't always so easy.

"Some players tell me that since retiring they've had the urge to go somewhere every three days," he observes. "To satisfy thawt urge they may even jump in the car and drive around the block."

Though Brock's itinerary appears more exhausting than ever, the travel is far more enjoyable. Whereas life as a ballplayer meant countless hours of semi-isolation in a hotel room, he now feels free to socialize with friends and business acquaintances on the road.

"There is a definite loneliness in the game," Lou explains. "Most people stay away from you since they think they're intruding upon your time. And after the ball game, when it's 11 o'clock and you want to eat dinner some place, the restaurants are closed."

There's no question that Brock will wind up in the Hall of Fame. Besides being the "Sultan of Swipes," he owns a .292 lifetime batting average, several World Series records, and membership in the select 3,000- hit fraternity. he collected No. 3,000 last year, when he recovered from his worst season in the majors (.221 batting avereage) to hit. 304.

Brock's trademarks were a relatively short lead off first base, enabling him to concentrate on getting a jump instead of constantly worrying about pickoff attempts, and the pop-up slie, a technique once associated with players unskilled at realm sliding.

His mastery of the pop-up had two benefits: it minimized contact with the ground, thereby lessening wear and tear on the body (something the short lead also accomplished), and it permitted Lou to advance quickly to third case on an overthrow.

The pop-up, he discovered, also commanded a certain amount of respect.

Let Lou explain: "The classic hook slide starts 15 feet from thebase, the pop-up five feet away at top speed. Staying up that extrastep forces the fielder to give ground. But with the hook or head-first slide, the infielders are all over you, banging you around like a punching bag."

Brock says he never set out to be a prolific base-stealer. Instead, he became one almost by executive order when he went to St. Louis from the Chicago Cubs in 1964.

"It was the club's philosophy that we were going to be a scratching, scrambling, gutty type ot team," he says. "The question then became, 'who's going to carry this out?' I was chosen.

"Stealing bases was put to me almost as a prerequisite for staying in the game. They didn't give me a handbook on how to do it; they said do it. Under those conditions you go out and develop your own handbook."

In today's game, Lou thinks several players may someday threaten his base-stealing records, including Kansas City's Willie Wilson, Montreal's Ron LeFlore, and Pittsburghhs Omar Moreno. All have blazing speed, yet Brock contends that any player with better than average speed can be larcenous on the basepaths. He must however, play on a run-oriented team, have a "book" on each pitcher, and get help from the hitter at the plate. "A stolen base is a two-man effort," he emphasizes. "Without the hitter's involvement, you're running against the grain."

Born in El Dorado, Arkansas, but raised in Louisiana, Lou currently lives in st. Louis with his wife, Virgie, and their four children. He says he's active in everything from the school system right down the line, adding that "community is something you have to work hard at."

His penchant for total involvement carries over into the business world. Several years ago, for example, Converse came out with an athletic shoe that carried Brock's name, a logical affiliation for the man who designed it. Beyond this, he's had very few endorsement offers, a fact that doesn't seem to bother him. In general, however, he feels black athletes are short-changed in this area.

Brock once contemplated a career as an architectural engineer during three years at Southern University. But the Cubs enticed him off the campus with a $ 30,000 bonus in 1961, and since then his ingenuity has bubbled to the surface in some rather unexpected ways.

Foremost among these is his Broccabrella brainstorm. The strange sun/rain shades are not really his invention. A more primitive version has been around for more than a 100 years, but it was Brock who decided to redsign the hat, giving it new excitment and vitality.

"It was very difficult from a marketing point of view to get people to accept an umbrella that sat on your head," he says, adding that the product is now registered in some 30 foreign countries. "We had to put a lot of flair into." Flair, of course, is something that Lou knows plenty about, as his baseball career attests.

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