Couple of Revolutionaries : Wilhelm and Brock Earned Shrine Spots
Now look what those crazy baseball writers have done. They’ve gone and put a couple of revolutionaries into the Hall of Fame. Don’t panic, though. Everything’s OK. On their records alone, Hoyt Wilhelm and Lou Brock certainly belong in Cooperstown and will be enshrined there on July 28. Which makes sense because they’ve left their benchmarks on the game in other ways. Wilhelm, 61, revolutionized the art of relief pitching by fooling the hitters for 21 years with his knuckleball, a pitch he learned from a picture in a newspaper. He pitched until he was 49 and set a major league record by appearing in 1,070 games for nine different teams starting with the New York Giants in 1952 and finishing with the Dodgers in 1972. Brock, 44, was a left-handed hitting, modest-sized outfielder who revolutionized the art of base stealing, not only with his feet but with his head as well. Everytime he got to first base, he conducted a seminar. He knew almost as much about gravity and motion as Sir Isaac Newton, and in his 18 big league seasons, most of them with the St. Louis Cardinals, he stole 50 or more bases 12 consecutive years and set a major league record with his 938 thefts. In addition, he collected 3,023 hits, batted .300 or better eight times and had a .293 lifetime average. Brock, elected on his first try, and Wilhelm, who made it on his eighth, were the only candidates to get the required 75% of the vote from the baseball writers. Nellie Fox, the late second baseman for the Chicago White Sox, missed being elected by only two votes in his 15th and final year on the ballot. For all he did with the Cardinals, which included hitting .300, .414 and .464 in the three World Series he played with them, Brock dwelt far more on the one big thing he’s remembered for doing with the Cubs. That was the team he broke in with in 1961. Three years later, the Cubs dealt him to the Cardinals for pitchers Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens in what they still say was their worst deal ever. While with the Cubs in 1962, Brock became one of only five known players to hit a ball into the right center field bleachers in the Polo Grounds. The ball Brock hit in a game with the Mets traveled nearly 500 feet. The only others to reach those bleachers in a regular National League game were Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock. Luke Easter deposited a ball in those bleachers while he was playing in the Negro Leagues and Schoolboy Rowe also did during batting practice before an Old Timers’ game. One newsman asked Brock if he could describe that titanic homer. “Oh yeah, yeah,” he beamed, all smiles. “I was a young kid and I felt I had to do something to stay with the team, something sensational,” said Brock, quite likely remembering the Cubs had other more experienced big hitters in the outfield at the time like Billy Williams and George Altman. "(Richie) Ashburn was playing in close in center and Alvin Jackson was pitching. After I hit the ball, I saw the numbers on Ashburn’s back. I ran at top speed and when I got to second base, Tom Gorman, the umpire there, gave me the home run sign. “To me, I thought that meant I had a chance for an inside-the-park homer, so I kept running as fast as I could. When I got back into the Cubs’ dugout, everyone was standing up. No one shook my hand or anything like that. They were all pointing toward the bleachers. Someone said to me, ‘did you see where that ball went?’ I said, no, where? Then they told me it had gone into the bleachers. I never saw the ball. But that I can remember. Wake me up at three in the morning and I can tell you about it.” Now Wilhelm wanted to talk about his home run. Here’s a guy whose 2.52 lifetime earned run average ranks him with some of the greatest pitchers in the game and he wants to tell everyone about the only home run he ever hit. It came on his first time at bat with the Giants and he never got another one. “I hit mine at the Polo Grounds, too, but it didn’t go as far as Lou’s,” said Wilhelm, still connected with baseball as a minor league pitching coach with the New York Yankees. “It went into the right field seats (only 257 feet from home plate) and I hit it off Dick Hoover of the Boston Braves.” Despite that historic home run of his, Wilhelm realizes the knuckleball was his ticket to the Hall of Fame. “Nobody ever taught me how to throw it,” he said. “I grew up when the Washington Senators had four knuckleball pitchers,” he went on, referring to Dutch Leonard, Roger Wolff, Johnny Niggeling and Mickey Haefner. “There was a picture in the paper of Dutch Leonard throwing the knuckleball and that’s where I picked it up. I doubt if I would’ve made the Hall of Fame it it wasn’t for the knuckleball. I don’t think I invented it. But I used it and tried to perfect it.” Wilhelm didn’t get to start many games, but his biggest kick, he said, came from one he did for Baltimore on Sept. 20, 1958. He pitched a no-hitter and beat the Yankees 1-0. Characteristically quiet and never flamboyant during his playing days, Brock always was considered the thinking man’s ballplayer, the kind who could qualify as a manager some day. Asked if he felt he was capable of managing today, he said he felt he could. “How come you haven’t?” a radio man asked him. “It’s not my fault,” he said with that patented Lou Brock smile. “No one asked me. “Would you accept it?” was the next question. “Oh, sure,” Brock answered, still smiling. Brock does something like 12 or 15 of the Cardinals’ games for TV and radio during the season and also has a business. Notified of his election at home in St. Louis Monday evening in a phone call from Jack Lang, secretary of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, Brock didn’t say anything for a moment or so. His wife, Virgie, who had originally taken the call, was still on the extension phone and she screamed in delight when she heard he had been elected. “I think I deserve a kiss for that,” she said to him. “For what. I did all the work,” he dead-panned. Then he gave her a big kiss, of course.