Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Fall of the titans

It’s tough sliding into your sixties, what, with all the various new bodily complaints that start arriving. Unwelcome guests for sure. You start to realize you are the target audience for many of the drug commercials on cable TV.

But worse than that: Your heroes are dying.

Having grown up in St. Louis in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was crushed these past few weeks to lose both Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, two of the most talented and popular ballplayers with the St. Louis Cardinals in one of their glory eras. And along with many others of the time, including the courageous Curt Flood, they were part of a surge in Black baseball talent that would make the days of MLB segregation seem absurd and self-destructive.

Both of these guys were tops with me. I had their baseball cards. I had souvenir photos. I went to games and yelled my guts out at their feats, Brock stealing bases like a pickpocket and Gibson striking out opponents with his slider and his fearsome intimidation. The Cardinals had won the World Series in 1964, when I was hardly aware of them, but by the time they made their next appearance in the Fall Classic, 1967, I was ready. My guys beat the Boston Red Sox in seven.

That year Lou Brock had stolen fifty-two bases in the regular season. And Gibson had 147 strikeouts and only forty walks. The next year he was even better: 268 strikeouts to sixty-two walks. I mean, wow. And that year in the World Series he struck out seventeen Detroit Tigers in one game. Unfortunately the Tigers came back from a three-games-to-one deficit and took that series from us. I was devastated. At only eleven years old, I learned what a hard-knock life this could be.

Compared to today’s ballplayers, these two were small men, as gigantic as they were in the game. Brock was 5’11” and 170 pounds; Gibson 6’1” and 189. The body you were born with wasn’t necessarily your destiny back then, though the color of your skin was a problem in many U.S. cities. But who are we kidding? It still is.

These two men, and so many others who followed in Jackie Robinson’s footsteps, showed America what a powerful combination talent and decency make. If I looked up to them as if they were Apollo and Ares, imagine what Black kids must have felt about them.

To me it seems like they don’t make athletes like Brock and Gibson anymore. Or Willies Mays and McCovey. Or Roberto Clemente. Or Hank Aaron. It’s a long list. Maybe the big money changed things, or the fan base wanted bigger and stronger and more home runs and fewer strikeouts so there’d be more action on the field. That’s on us, I guess.

I’m sure baseball-loving kids who grew up in the ‘90s and ’00’s feel the same way about their heroes, and those heroes deserve their accolades, for sure. But the game has changed so much since ’67 and ’68 that I wonder if we’re really appreciating the same thing.

All I know for sure is that when I look at pics of Lou and Bob, I get a feeling of pride and respect and awe and nostalgia that makes me grateful to have been around when they were playing.

Even if that makes me older than I really care to think about now …


5 comments on “Fall of the titans

  1. kingmidget
    October 7, 2020

    They don’t make athletes like they used to. There are likely a lot of factors, but I think the money is such a huge part of it. Money corrupts and can change a person’s character. Back then athletes made a decent living, but nothing close to the tens of millions (and hundreds of millions) the superstars make now. While they were pampered to some extent, that also has gone to extremes now. Athletes are a part of a very privileged class.

    It’s amazing, as you describe the size of Brock and Gibson to realize just how much bigger athletes are these days. Not just in baseball, but in foot ball too. Sure, there were some big guys back in the 1960’s — McCovey for instance — but so may of the superstars of that era would look like midgets compared to today’s superstars. I’m not sure the increased size is such a good thing for the game of baseball.

    By the way, I’m thoroughly disgusted with what is going on this season with pitching. I was watching a playoff game last week — the starter was taken out of the game with two outs in the first inning when he hadn’t even given up a run. And then there was a game a few days ago, I think it was the Padres, where they used 9 pitchers in a 9 inning game — one in which they gave up hardly any runs. This is yet another strike in how today’s game is turning me off.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 7, 2020

      I’m trying not to judge the sport by this messed-up season, but they’ve made some disturbing decisions that don’t bode too well for the future. Extra innings starting with a man on second? Double headers ending after the seventh? Come on. This stuff with the pitching is bad too, though I haven’t been able to see any of these games myself. Nine pitchers in nine innings? Abominable, even if it makes a certain amount of sense. Like the defensive shift.

      Lou and Bob haven’t been gone long, but I bet they’re already rolling in their graves!

      • kingmidget
        October 7, 2020

        I watch the Giants and that’s about it now. I turn on a playoff game — the announcers are idiots, the changes have made things worse, and how managers manage their pitchers just destroys me — I don’t last long.

        The extra inning rule – starting with a runner on second – is beyond idiotic. And what is even more idiotic is how few teams have the first batter bunt the runner over to third. It’s like the entire sport has forgotten its history and how to manufacture runs.

      • Kevin Brennan
        October 7, 2020

        25 ways to score from third base. Come on, guys.

      • kingmidget
        October 7, 2020

        Yep. And with a runner on third, the entire defense is affected.

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This entry was posted on October 7, 2020 by in Publishing and tagged , , , .
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