LA JOLLA — You might say Little Lou is a chip off the old Brock. Lou Brock--the father--was skinny and fast, always remembered your first name and always gave you and your kid his autograph. Lou Brock--the son--is just as skinny, just as fast and has never met a fan he didn't pamper. The other day, some guy got lost on the UC San Diego campus here, and Little Lou gave him directions to the freeway.
"Take care of yourself," Little Lou told the man. "And if there's ever anything I can do . . . "
The two Lous are two peas in a pod. The only difference is that Big Lou stole bases, and Little Lou steals passes.
Little Lou, 23, looks as if he should be stealing bases, too. His playing weight at USC was 175 pounds, but now he's not a shade over 167, and he has been as low as 163 during this year's Charger training camp. The day he weighed in at 163, he got on the scale wearing thongs. Wayne Davis, a teammate who has since been traded to Buffalo, said: "Hell, Lou. Take off those thongs, and you'll weigh in the 150s."
Somehow, word got back to the Charger coaches that Little Lou weighed 157 (though it wasn't true), and Ron Lynn, the defensive coordinator, said he got a little paranoid. But Lou assured everyone he weighed in the 160s and was eating two steaks a night. Not to worry, he said.
Still, Charger coaches still wonder if Little Lou, drafted in the second round as a cornerback, can hit. Funny, but his baseball coaches used to wonder the same thing.
"He's frail," Coach Al Saunders said of Brock this week.
So far in this exhibition season, Brock hasn't proven he can catch. Against the Rams, he dropped an interception that would have thwarted Los Angeles' game-winning drive. And against the 49ers, he tipped a long pass that eventually fell into the arms of wide receiver Tony Hill to set up the game-securing touchdown.
"I've got a bad case of the bad lucks," Brock explained.
To be honest, Little Lou admits he's a little small to be wearing a chin strap for a living. Before training camp, he was home in St. Louis, eating dinner with Big Lou, 48, and his two little brothers (8-year-old Danny and 9-year-old Emory), and Big Lou remembers explaining to Danny and Emory why Little Lou was leaving for San Diego.
"He's gonna be a defensive back for the Chargers," Big Lou said.
"What's that mean, Daddy?" Emory asked.
"Emory," Big Lou said, "that means when Walter Payton gets by the linemen and linebackers, Lou has to stop him."
"Hey, Lou!" Emory screamed to his older brother. "You're gonna get creamed, man!"
So we ask the inevitable question: Why in the world didn't Little Lou play baseball like Big Lou? Part of it stems from the identity theory. Does it always have to be like father, like son? Little Lou chose his own path, not a basepath.
"Yeah, there was a time when I wanted to stay away (from baseball) and create my own identity," Little Lou says now. "But I never took it as a negative thing. A lot of people say I wanted to be my own man and that's why I chose football. Truth is, football has provided more of a vehicle, just because of the way society is set up. I wasn't offered baseball scholarships. Schools offered me football scholarships and just expected me to play baseball, too.
"The Expos drafted me out of high school. I could have gone to baseball, but if you don't make it, what else do you have to fall back on? A high school education? Football's more practical."
In a sense, it doesn't seem practical for Little Lou to be tackling Walter Payton, either. At USC, he tackled with his hands and his head, but Lynn has advised him to dive and use his body to make a tackle. It's either that or injured reserve.
"Yeah, I'm probably more suited for baseball," Little Lou admits. ". . . But, you know, Greg Luzinski was more suited for football, and he played baseball."
Big Lou saw this coming a long time ago. Big Lou, as a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, helped lead his team to the 1967 World Series championship and also is baseball's all-time stolen base leader. In 1974, Big Lou stole a then-record 118 bases.
Little Lou was there.
In fact, Little Lou hung around the clubhouse daily. The one thing he remembers about those early World Series days was pitcher Bob Gibson spanking him.
"You know why?" Big Lou says. "It's because he used to walk up and kick Gibson as hard as he could. Gibson would turn around and kick him back."
The point is, Little Lou spent so much time around a big league clubhouse that he took the sport for granted. According to Big Lou, Little Lou was so good so early that he got bored with it all. And by playing football, there were homecoming dances and so forth. High school baseball games, meanwhile, were attended by mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and hardly anybody else.
"They didn't have homecoming baseball games," Big Lou points out.