Lou Brock was 35 years old and with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974 when he set major league baseball's all-time base stealing record of 118 in a single season - a figure a lot of people thought would never be broken. Outfielder Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A's, who got his 119th (plus three more) against the Brewers in Milwaukee on August 27, won't be 24 until December 25.
''As long as Henderson doesn't lose his nerve, his desire, and his confidence , the only thing that can stop him in the future is injuries,'' Brock told reporters after watching Rickey steal No. 119 as a guest of the Brewers. ''The year I set the record, I was pretty well banged up physically by the end of the season. But the thing that bothered me most was the wear and tear on my hands, which made it difficult after a while for me to hold a bat properly.
''The year after I stole 118, I was down to to 56, not becuse I still didn't have all the tools, but because I was unable to push myself mentally the way I had the previous season,'' Lou continued. ''I also noticed that the year after Maury Wills stole 104 for the Dodgers, he had only 40 the next season.''
Brock always claimed that part of his sucess was due to a $500 movie camera he purchased in 1965 that he used to film the moves of National League pitchers who had been giving him trouble on pickoff plays.
Although Henderson and Brock are alike in one respect (neither favors the exceptionally long lead off first base), Lou always slid feet first into the bag , whereas Rickey prefers to go in headfirst on his stomach, which he claims is faster. Henderson also wears heavier gloves to protect his hands on the bases than he does when he's hitting.
When I interviewed Rickey earlier in the season and we talked about the physical price Ty Cobb, Wills, and Brock paid for their high base stealing totals, he said that problem didn't apply to him because of his style.
''I'm seldom far enough from first base so that I have to dive back on pickoff plays,'' he explained, ''and I rarely have much contact with the infielder who takes the catcher's throw at second base because I'm so far below him.''