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From star of the '70s to marginal Hall of Famer

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.


Nick said…
'76 wins in a landslide victory for me as well, but I'd but '77 and '79 as the runners-up (the '79 is probably one of my favorites from that year of Topps).
GOGOSOX60 said…
Brock was at a local southside Chicago Walgreen's drug store in 1978 selling his "Brockabella's". My buddy and I saw that he was signing autos so I headed to the candy section and (Shoplifting alert 36 years later) and opened a few packs of 78 Topps baseball in hoping to find a Brock right away. Found a Brock broken record card and had him sign it. When I got to Brock I asked him when is his last year and he said next year(1979). He signed the stolen card and also was signing little postcard cards. So I got two autos that day......
I'm going to be alone on the island and cast my vote for the '79 card simply because that was the first Lou Brock card I ever got...and I remember staring at it and being so happy to have it.
steelehere said…
1976 gets my vote though I'd consider voting for the 1979 Topps Lou Brock Mug Shot/Wanted Poster (I'm mean All-Time Record Holder card #415) if it was eligible.
I have to vote for the 1976 card. I call this card the "floating Brock" card.

My sentimental favorite is the 1974 becaue it was the first non-league leader Brock card I ever pulled. Brock was a big deal at the time. I believe he was on one or two LL cards in 1973 so I was happy when I pulled his card in 1974 and subsequent years.

He belongs in the Hall !!!!!!
My wife likes the 1973 card. Please count her vote, you know . . . women's suffrage and all. She likes the card because "He has a nice smile, but he look a little skinny".

Of course she did not like the 1976 card, which I prefer, because he has a funny look.
AdamE said…
I don't really like the 76. I voted for the 77. Even the color blind guy can see how well the blue jersey and red bat contrast so much they are great together. And the striped batting helmet is so god awful you have to like it.

After that I like the 70 cause his pose is just different than what you usually see.

After the 70 I'll give you 76.

1976 is by far the best. almost all so similar. then again. 76 is one of my favorite sets of the 70s. Lou Brock. borderline Hall of Famer? ha! I so dislike sabremetrics. Its fine getting more numbers to build a better ballclub. but come on. Those pencil pushers need to actual watch games and understand the nuances that don't show up in stats. The WAR is not end all be all stat. It has it's flaws and can't be used alone to define a player's value. That is why there is a number of statistics on the back of a baseball card.
Anonymous said…
I voted for '76. How could I resist a card of one of the best thieves on the basepaths? I was soooooooo close to voting for '77 though. I love those pillbox caps & I don't think I even knew 'til now that they wore helmets with the stripes on 'em! I thought about voting for '79, 'cause I remember having that card when I was a kid & it's a pretty cool photo (great expression on his face & a worn helmet always says ACTION happened). That was exciting for me. I looooooooved basestealers and I traded away some good cardboard to get a Lou Brock from another kid in the neighborhood.
Man said…
76' all the way. Being a native STLer I have a can of Brocko Pop, I may even have a Brockabrella-an umbrella you wear on your head.
deal said…
1975T best shows off the cut of Brock's Sideburns
Anonymous said…
I really like the 1970 card for some reason. I almost voted for it because I think it's closer to the 1976 card than you think. But it's not as good and I don't want to incorrectly influence the results. that would be unethical!
Eric C. Loy said…
I specifically vote against the 1976 card because it has a picture from (at least) 1973 on it! That's Jackie Hernandez behind him, and his last year was 1973!!

I like 1970.
Stack22 said…
Another fine example of why "sabermetrics" is deeply flawed and wildly over-rated as an evaluation tool.

1. 1977
2. 1976
3. 1970
Fuji said…
Some people had Hank. You had Lou. And I had Rickey. Brock was still popular when I started collecting, but Rickey started chipping away at his records... and it was happening in my backyard.

As for my favorite 70's Brock card... it's (literally) hands down his 1976 card. It has a solid card design and a great shot of him right where he belonged... on the base paths.
mr haverkamp said…
Funny that I loved this card cause I originally thought the Pirates SS in view was Frank Taveras, but you have made the correct id on Jackie; think I can see the Clemente memorial patch on his left shoulder, which was worn full year 1973.
Stubby said…
I've opened so many packs of cards over the years remembering that specific sensation of seeing any one given card pack fresh...well, they are very few. Obviously I remember the very first card in the very first pack I ever bought from the little shop at the top of the viaduct (insert Marx Bros. routine here)--1964 Jack Fisher. Well, the 1970 Lou Brock is one of those. I remember seeing that card in the back half of the pack and instantly falling in love with it. Never had that feeling about any other Lou Brock card.
Glad to see another Best of the 70s post. I updated my link list :-)

Voting: Done. While I really like the 77 for the same reasons - it's very 70's (that real life unpolished and authentic feel), plus it's got the cool bat and helmet angle...

The 75 eeks it out by a tiny bit. It just leaves me with a comforting feel. There's Lou with a confident smile. He knows he's going to bust through the Cobb record in 77. Sure there's 1978 to deal with, but it'll soon be forgotten by that HOF induction. Plus it's a 75 card so that in itself has a lot going for me.

An action photo would be the BEST card, but the 76 just doesn't have enough action to top the others...
Bru said…
Too late to vote, but I'd pick 70, 76, and 77. All great cards. I have such a fondness for the soft gray of the '70 set.

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