The Stars are Dying

Two of my favorite sports idols died in 2020. Both were major league players for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Both played a significant number of years with the Cardinals and are in the MLB Hall of Fame.  Bob Gibson, the ace pitcher, and Lou Brock the left-handed outfielder and base stealer were World Series champions in 1964 and led by example as hard workers and consistent performers. Brock was the most exciting player because he exemplified the tenacity to not only get on base but be a threat as a base runner. He inspired me to play baseball as a youth and I believe I had similar skills as he.  Ironically, Brock and I had the same agent, Richie Bry out of St. Louis.  Bry and Associates, LTD., was the most notable major League Baseball player representative in the 70’s and 80’s but also represented NFL players such as Jerry Rice and Roger Craig.  Bry also help Brock promote the “Brockabrella,” the novelty umbrella hat that was the crave for fans to use in the hot Missouri summers. My brother Marc and I would use the Brockabrella when we cut customer’s yards in the summer!  

Gibson was the epitome of the all-star pitchers of his day and had a passion for finishing nine innings of the game!  It was insightful to read his last biography Pitch By Pitch, written in 2015, about game one of the 1968 World Series. He struck out 17 batters and it confirmed what I always knew; that he was a methodical worker, meticulous pitcher, and wanted to dominate batters each time he was on the mound. Baseball was the most popular organized sport in my hometown and one of the few available in my community when I was young. I was so motivated to play that I would often listen to the Cardinals games on the radio. Some of you may be aware that listening to a baseball game on radio requires fans to be very dedicated!  As a child in the 1960’s there was minimal sports programming on television and few channels available to radio listeners.  The Cardinals baseball programming was one of the most popular on radio in the nation. More importantly I believed Bob Gibson and Lou Brock were black sports role models who represented individuals like those in my family and neighborhood.  They were not as influential as my father Leo who was also a professional athlete, but they were examples of the increased changing of social conscience in sports culture of the 1960’s.  A sports culture that mirrored the most profound cultural and political changes in America. A sports culture that saw a rapid emergence of black and brown student athletes and professional athletes in our country’s most popular sports. Major League Baseball once called “America’s favorite pastime” saw an addition of new heroes – the greatest collection of players included Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Maury Wills, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda and the greatest – Hank Aaron, who recently passed, among others!  As the life and career of Hank Aaron is memorialized, I am reminded again about the turbulent 1960’s, the state of our nation’s social makeup and the contested political climate during those years.  The most important stories that have emerged outside of Aaron’s celebrated playing career was his humanity.  Notable was his breaking Babe Ruth’s monumental career home run record in 1974.  The subsequent backlash from citizens who apparently driven by hate, disapproved of his efforts only because he was black.  The story of his bravery explained in his first comprehensive autobiography I Had a Hammer, in 1991, is a focus on his upbringing in poor Alabama and the stance against racism throughout his life. Unfortunately, even now, we see numerous unsettling responses toward black athletes who show their humanity outside the competitive lines of their sport.  Fortunately, the sports stars of today have the power and influence to embracereflect and affect the current climate of race and ethnic relations – compared to the struggles confronted by sports heroes of my youth.