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Brock honored with Robinson Legacy Award

KANSAS CITY -- Before accepting the 2012 Jackie Robinson Legacy Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on Monday, Lou Brock revealed that a pair of legendary sports figures -- Cool Papa Bell and Jesse Owens -- helped shape his Hall of Fame career.

"Cool Papa Bell was living in St. Louis," Brock said. "He came to the ballpark one day and said, 'I'm Cool Papa Bell.' I said, 'Cool Papa Bell? I've heard about you.' He asked if he could call me from time to time. I gave him my number. He said he was going to talk to me about things that were 'not in the book, Casey Stengel's book.' He taught me things that were not in the book.

"Another person who helped me was Jesse Owens. He walked up to me one day and said, 'Your problem, sonny, is you don't know how to take off.' Next thing I know I was down on the track. He gave me running technique, showing me that the explosion wasn't in your feet -- it was in your upper body, having it squared toward your target."

What Brock learned from these gentlemen and others along the way was that knowledge can erase fear. A fearless base runner is a step ahead of the game.

"You have to have a thirst for knowledge," Brock said. "If you don't know something, there's a hesitation -- and hesitation is what costs you. The only way to get rid of it is to have knowledge."

This left an impression on Gerald Neill, a policeman for 30 years who traveled from Washington, D.C., to see the museum and happened to luck into food for thought from Brock.

"It wasn't just the athleticism -- he had the intelligence to listen to the best, people like Jesse Owens," Neill said. "They know what you don't know. Knowledge takes away fear."

Bob Kendrick, director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said there was no more fitting recipient of the lifetime achievement award given Brock's history. He was discovered by the late Buck O'Neil, founder of the museum and mentor to countless players over eight decades in the game.

"Buck signed Lou out of Southern University to the Chicago Cubs," Kendrick said. "Buck said, 'I was the last one to sign off on one of the worst trades in history,'" when the Cubs sent Brock to the Cardinals in a six-player trade in which they recevied pitcher Ernie Broglio.

"Buck said every time he went to St. Louis, they would give him a standing ovation. Lou turned into one of the greatest players the game has seen."

Accepting his award from Kendrick for humanitarian work, Brock characteristically focused on someone else: Johnny Sain, the Boston Braves pitcher who took the mound against Robinson in the April 15, 1947 game at Ebbets Field that served to integrate the game at last.

Known for his big curveball, Sain retired Robinson -- batting second in the first inning -- on a groundout to third baseman Bob Elliott. Brock understands how different it could have been if Sain had gone head-hunting.

"I talked to Johnny many times," Brock said. "I was on his deathbed. I told him, `Your story needs to be told. Jackie Robinson at the plate, the baseball was in your hands.' The world had no idea what Johnny would release that day. I asked him, `Why did the ball come out of your hand as a breaking ball, not an inside [fastball]?'

"He responded by saying, `I was a Major League pitcher, and Jackie Robinson had to hit me.'

"Most people think Jackie Robinson walked up that day as a black man. But he walked up as a man. We've had a lot of social changes because Jackie Robinson walked up to home plate that day. The world stood still."

In a museum room packed with fans and media, Brock sat between writer Joe Posnanski and local television personality Michael Coleman to shed light on the inner game with a program called "Speed Thrills: The Art of Base Running."

Brock is an authority. The man broke Ty Cobb's 49-year-old career stolen base record with No. 893 in 1977, only to have it seized 14 years later by Rickey Henderson, the reigning king of baseball thieves.

The role model for Henderson, the greatest of all leadoff men, Brock was a reluctant catalyst in the beginning. He hit in the heart of the order in college and through the Minor Leagues, happily driving in runs. That changed when he reached Chicago and the Cubs had Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks hitting third through fifth.

"They asked me, `Where should you bat?'" Brock said, grinning, "and I said, `You should move Santo.' So I became a leadoff man."

He stole his first base in 1962 and finished with 938. Brock held the single-season record of 118 -- eclipsing Wills' 104 at age 35 in 1974 -- until Henderson shattered it with 130 in 1982.

In good humor on Monday, thoroughly enjoying the dialogue with fans, Brock offered expertise along with laughter. He explained how there were three types of pitchers' moves to read when attempting to steal, how body language and foot positioning tipped off those keys.

After takeoff, he said, it became a matter of attitude -- "base running arrogance," he called it. "I'm going to take it from you."

Cobb had it, and Maury Wills had it. Henderson took it to a whole new level.

"The only one who spoke it out loud," Brock said, referring to that competitive arrogance, "was Rickey Henderson. He was talking, yapping. He was going to take this space behind enemy lines."

Brock left his audience laughing when he identified Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver as the easiest pitchers to victimize with a steal.

"Why didn't they have a [pickoff] move?" Brock asked. "Nobody got on base against those guys. They didn't even throw over to first base."