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Lou Brock gets his 3,000th hit

40-year-old leadoff man Lou Brock connects for his 3,000th career hit, in a game against the Cubs on Aug. 13, 1979. (Post-Dispatch file photo)

On Aug. 13, 1979, Lou Brock became the 14th player in baseball history to accumulate 3,000 hits in a career. This is the way a fellow Hall of Famer, Rick Hummel, covered the event for the Post-Dispatch.

Lou Brock said that it had turned out just about the way he had fantasized it, this 3,000th hit.

"I pictured in my mind a hit up the middle," he said. "But I didn't know Dennis Lamp was going to get in the way of it."

At 8:59 Mondav night as a Busch Stadium crowd of 46,161 erupted in frenzy, Brock, in his second at-bat, in the fourth inning, lashed his second hit of the game. It was a single off the hand of Lamp, the Chicago Cubs pitcher. Third baseman Steve Ontiveros clutched the ball but had no play as Brock skittered across first base and into the record books.

The Cardinals left fielder became only the 14th player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone.

There was an immediate ceremony in which Cardinals president August A. Busch and Hall of Famer Stan Musial spoke briefly. Musial presented Brock the ball in play on his 3,000th hit 21 years ago, and then Brock talked.

Aug. 14, 1979: Lou Brock gets 3,000th hit

Lou Brock, knocked down with a pitch by Chicago's Dennis Lamp, leaped to his feet and immediately knocked down the Cubs' pitcher with a hot shot off the pitcher's right hand. It was hit No. 3000, one which led to Page One presentation in the Post-Dispatch.

"You fans here deserved to see the 3,000th hit," Brock said. "Stan came extremely close but didn't quite make it (Musial had his 3,000th hit in Chicago). Mr. Busch said, 'You're going to do it here.' I said, 'I am?'"

Brock did, putting the finishing touches on what he called "orchestrating my own exodus." "I've always wanted to leave baseball in a blaze of glory," Brock said. "I've always wanted to orchestrate my own exodus and I'm doing a pretty good job of it."

There were serious doubts raised as to whether he could amass the 100 hits necessary to reach 3,000, a figure last accomplished by Pete Rose in 1978 and a figure likely to be reached by Boston's Carl Yastrzemski later this year.

Was he washed up?

"You guys (the media) said that. I didn't," said Brock. "One-hundred hits is not an awful lot of hits to get provided you get a chance to play."

Brock noted that the Cardinals organization "had looked for a replacement for me for the last two years and the third year it turned out to be me." But he said the 3,000 plateau "had not been an obsession. The most important thing was to crown my career with a fine performance," Brock said. "Three-thousand hits was a star in that crown. "

It was with some irony that Brock achieved the  milestone. The Cubs were the ones that first signed him in 1961 but had traded him in 1964.

However, Brock said, "It didn't matter to me whether I got it against somebody from the moon or Mars or some other ballclub. They (the Cubs) just happened to be in town in dog-tight games."

The main impetus for the historic hit probably was provided by Lamp himself, Brock said. "I tried very hard to find a way to be nervous, but I never could," said Brock. Then Lamp zipped a one-ball two-strike fastball Brock's chin.

"Once a ball gets under my chin, that makes me nervous," said Brock. "That was a close call." But once Lamp got Brock's attention, Brock got Lamp's. on the next pitch 

 Brock, on the next pitch, literally knocked the Cubs righthander from the mound with his line drive. Lamp suffered bruises on three fingers on his (right) pitching hand.

Putting things in some perspective, Brock, after being taken out of the game in the fifth inning, walked to the room where Lamp was undergoing X-rays to check the extent of the injury.

There had been an air of almost astonishing casualness before the game. Brock arrived leisurely about 5:30, two hours before the game, and responded before anyone had asked him, "No, I'm not nervous."

But the barbs from teammates came anyway. "What have you got to be nervous about?" challenged Garry Templeton. "You've got nothing to be nervous about." The two then shadow-boxed briefly and Brock went about the business of "getting my wheels" (legs) pumped up by trainer Gene Gieselmann.

Ken Reitz brought up a bet he had made with Brock in spring training. A steak dinner rode on whether Reitz got to 1,000 hits before Brock got to 3,000. Reitz needed only one hit, which he got in the ninth inning, but that was much too late. He will be buying Brock dinner when the team gets to San Francisco.

Bob Forsch offered, "What if they fill this place up and then they announce that Lou isn't going to play tonight, that he might play tomorrow?"

Reliever Buddy Schultz said, "My kid's got a 101 temperature but I brought him anyway. You'd better do it."

And injured second baseman Mike Tyson made his first appearance since his knee injury, limping in on crutches. "Gotta be here," said Tyson.

Brock calmly spoke of plans to donate $1 for every hit to an organization to be announced later and then began rolling tape around a bat. He rolled five pieces, an inch or so apart, around the bat and said that pitcher Silvio Martinez, of all people, had given there was no margin for error," said Brock. "I didn't want my hands to slip on the bat."

With the tape, Brock assured himself that his hands wouldn't slip. The only problem, he said, was that somebody kept taking his bats. He had to use somebody else's. There followed a foray into the equipment room where Brock saw no bats marked "No. 20" in the rack. But a batboy said, "Oh, your bats are locked up over here." Sure enough, Brock, to his surprise, found a dozen or so bats and he extracted four. But, as fate would have it and always seems to in such situations Brock said afterward he had no idea what bat he used to reach 3,000. It may not even have been his own. It didn't really matter.

Wife Virgie was there and so were children Wanda, Louis Jr., and little Emory and littler Daniel Christopher (11 days old). Those who weren't asleep beamed as a perspiring Brock faced a phalanx of newsmen.

Brock said that Al Kaline, the former Detroit Tigers star who sent one of the congratulatory telegrams, was the first to instill in his mind the prospect of getting 3,000 hits. "He said, 'You've got a chance . . . ' But he said it wasn't going to be easy," related Brock.

In the spring of 1973, Brock, who had 2,001 hits at that point, told Post-Dispatch Sports Editor Bob Broeg that the prospect was "remote." But, Brock said, ultimately 3,000 "came within range. I woke up one morning and I was only 300 hits away from it."

It wasn't quite that simple, though, as he then readily pointed out. "Unfortunately, 1977 and 1978 were not parts of the plan," he said. That's when the whispers of Brock being washed up started. Now those whispers have been washed away. 

Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.