When I was a kid, there were few baseball athletes that were as big of a deal as Lou Brock.
I had just missed out on Hank Aaron surpassing Babe Ruth for the all-time home run record in 1974, so when Brock passed Ty Cobb for the all-time stolen base record in 1977, that was the big "all-time" mark of my childhood.
And it was a major deal. I remember the newspaper layout when Brock broke the record in late August of that year. Large headline, large photo, top of the page. All during my first few years of following baseball, Brock was treated with reverence, a perpetual all-star, a World Series hero, a topic of paperback biographies, a certain Hall of Famer.
Indeed, Brock did make it into the Hall of Fame on his first try in 1985. And nobody raised an eyebrow.
It's only been in the last decade or two that Brock has come up in discussions about "marginal Hall of Famers." Brock's stats aren't treated kindly by sabermetrics. His on-base percentage, while OK, wasn't what you'd expect from someone with such lofty honors. His career WAR is comparable to players who almost no one would consider to be a Hall of Famer.
Nobody's really arguing that Brock doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, but as someone who's been around baseball for 40 years now, the decline is obvious: he's gone from highly acclaimed superstar to "yeah, well, I guess we don't kick him out."
Of course, this probably doesn't mean a thing to Brock. He's in the Hall of Fame. He's been in there for decades. No one's going to say to his face, "yeah, but your WAR wasn't really that good." If they do, he's going to point to that plaque and say, "I'm there forever, son."
Brock made it into the Hall of Fame based on his prolific base-stealing ability, 3,000 career hits and a terrific World Series reputation (he batted.391 in 21 games). His reputation was passed down to young kids like me, probably through people like Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek and syndicated sportswriters of the 1970s.
Reputations are being made based on a somewhat different set of standards now, which is fine. But it's always nice to go back to the '70s and review who people thought was at the top of the class.
And that's why we're voting on the best 1970s Topps card of Lou Brock.
I'll show you all of Brock's cards from this decade and ask you to vote for your favorite in the poll on the sidebar (I'm at a ballgame tonight, so I won't be able to put up the poll until after I get back). (EDIT: Poll is up!)
Brock has one particular card from the 1970s that, as far as I'm concerned, far surpasses anything else that he's ever had on cardboard. I'm not even afraid of tipping the voting in this card's favor. It's that good.
But we don't play the game on paper and we don't vote based on night owl's biases (I've found that out a time or two). Make up your own mind.
So here are Brock's 1970s cards. Every one of them has a card number ending in a zero or a five. Because I'm telling you again, he was a big deal in the '70s:
1970: Brock lounging casually at the batting cage, with bat behind his waist, which sets him up for a sucker punch to the solar plexus.
1971: I don't know why I admire this card so much. It's probably because it's such a crisp copy of a high-numbered card. The "sky shot" makes me almost miss that Brock is holding a bat in this picture.
1972: This might be from the same photo shoot as the 1971 card. The bat looks very similar. Brock received the double zero treatment for 1972, as card No. 200. That's star power.
1973: This is the only '70s Brock card that I don't have. It's very '70s, from the tilted background to the high-rise in the background that appears on a few other '70s cards. But the best part of this card are the traffic lights in the background. Traffic lights! There can't be many baseball cards with traffic lights. And now I must have this card.
1974: The card from his record-breaking season, when he stole 118 bases, but the best part of this card is on the back.
Brock operated a flower shop. He also was a known inventor, coming up with the Brockabrella, an umbrella hat that actually appears on a baseball card (Jay Johnstone's famed 1984 Fleer card).
1975: That is a LOUD card. Red, pink and yellow. But it all fit with Brock's flashy reputation.
1976: Here it is: the card I expect to run away with the voting (heh, get it?). Not only is this probably Brock's premier card, but I expect this card to do some serious damage when I compile the 100 greatest cards of the '70s. Vote for another card if you like, but I might ask you for a reason.
1977: This one's pretty good, too. Very '70s. From the baby blue road uniforms, to the NL centennial patch, to one of the only preserved-on-cardboard examples of the anniversary throwback helmet. Also, a very cool red bat.
1978: I am well-acquainted with this card as it was the first Brock card that I pulled myself. In fact, I'm not used to it being in such pristine condition. The frayed/worn version is much more familiar.
1979: The final card of Brock's career closes the decade. I always thought this was appropriate. Brock's performance fell off quite a bit in 1978. You get the sense from the card that he knows that. The St. Louis logo on his helmet apparently is embarrassed to be seen on him.
So, once again, the poll is up. Have at it. Vote for the Best of the '70s Lou Brock card and give the man some love that he hasn't experienced since ... well, the '70s.