Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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.
Even if that makes me older than I really care to think about now …