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St. Louis Cardinals base-stealing great Lou Brock dies at 81

FILE PHOTO: Baseball Hall of Famer and former St. Louis Cardinal Lou Brock throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cardinals met theTexas Rangers in Game 2 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis

(Reuters) – Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who became baseball’s premier base stealer as he helped make the St. Louis Cardinals one of the sport’s dominant teams of the 1960s, died on Sunday at the age of 81.

“Our hearts are broken,” the Cardinals said in a tweet. “Lou Brock was an amazing player and outstanding person.”

Brock, who was born in Arkansas in 1939 and grew up in Louisiana, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985 in his first year of eligibility.

Hitting, defense and speed on the bases made Brock one of the most notable and popular players of the Cardinals, a team with a rich baseball history.

He stole 118 bases in 1974, a single-season major league record until Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics stole 130 in 1982. In 1977, Brock broke the legendary Ty Cobb’s mark for most steals in a career, a record that had stood for 49 years. That record was also eventually broken by Henderson in 1991.

Brock led the National League in steals eight times and is still its career stolen-bases leader. He retired at age 40 in 1979 after 19 seasons, 16-1/2 of them with the Cardinals.

With Brock as leadoff hitter and left fielder, the Cardinals won the World Series in 1964 and 1967. They also reached the Series in 1968, but lost.

Brock’s career got off to a mediocre start with the Chicago Cubs in 1961, but turned around in the middle of the 1964 season when the Cardinals acquired him in a trade for pitcher Ernie Broglio in the hopes of adding speed to their lineup.

Brock joined a team that was in sixth place, despite having stars such as pitcher Bob Gibson, a future Hall of Famer, along with Tim McCarver, Curt Flood and Ken Boyer, who would be named the National League’s most valuable player that season.

Helped by Brock’s hitting and base stealing, they ended up winning the league championship on the last day of the season and defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The trade for Brock, which had initially stirred doubts among some Cardinals players, is widely considered one of the most one-sided in baseball history.

With Brock as the catalyst, the Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox to win another World Series championship in 1967, but lost to the Detroit Tigers the next season.

Brock batted over .300 in eight seasons and finished his career with 3,023 hits and 938 steals.

In 1978, the National League announced that the award it gives to the stolen-base leader each season would be named after Brock, and the Cardinals in 1979 retired his No. 20 jersey.

“Lou was among the game’s most exciting players,” Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, adding that “he will be deeply missed.”

During his career, Brock popularized what became known as the “brockabrella” – a small umbrella worn as a hat to help baseball fans get through rainy games.

In later life, Brock battled serious health ailments, including diabetes and cancer. His lower left leg was amputated in 2015, but that did not stop him from throwing out the first pitch at the Cardinals’ first home game the next season, wearing a prosthetic leg.

The Cardinals announced in April 2017 that Brock was being treated for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. After months of treatment, Brock said several months later that his doctor told him he was cancer free.

(Reporting by Bill Trott; Editing by Peter Cooney and Aurora Ellis)