Saturday, September 20, 2014

September 20, 1974: The Lives of Brock and McBride are Threatened

     On September 20, 1974, the Cardinals knocked off the Chicago Cubs 5-2 at Busch. The game was highlighted by a fourth inning three run homer by Ted Simmons that gave the Birds a 4-1 lead, and proved to be key in leading the club to victory. The win was a big one that kept the Birds perched atop the N.L. East. With that said, the game that was played that day and the games played in the days that followed were game that were being played under duress because that morning when the mail was delivered to the Cardinals offices at Busch there were a pair of identical letters in the stack of mail that threatened the lives of outfielders Lou Brock  and Bake McBride.

     Brock had broken Maury Wills' record of 104 stolen bases 10 days before that letter arrived, and looked to be leading the way to a division title. McBride was on the way to winning Rookie of the Year, and had played a huge role in the club's success as well. The fan that sent the letter had claimed he was dying of a brain tumor and had just months to live. He had also claimed he lose $50,000 on bet that was place on the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the East. He thought that Brock and McBride were going to make him lose that bet. It was full of racial slurs that will not be repeated on this page, but I will give you a version of the letter without any of that language. It went as follows:

"By beating out the Pirates this year you're costing me $50,000 in winnings I would have had as a result of a bet at large odds I placed on them to win back in April when they were already counted out even by the oddsmakers. This is no idle threat; If I think so I can assure you that neither of you will live past the 3rd, 4th, or 5th playoff game whether it be in L.A. or Cincy. I have only a month or two to live: I have a brain tumor--- inoperable---and the pain will---my doctor advises me increase to the intolerable stage: I do not intend to go through that agony: I had hoped to leave my wife and children that $50,000, therefore, since you damn Cardinals are taking me, I've decided to take 2---possibly---more with me. I'll have a revolver loaded with six shots and be in the stands close enough to get you both and save the last shot for myself as since I suicide is my only way out---unspeakable agony is not going to be mine. I am going to follow you to St. Louis, Chicago, Montreal, and L.A. and Cincy if I decide to wait until the end meanwhile you 2... can sweat it out wondering if I am going to wait to make my move in St. Louis---wait til Chicago---wait til Montreal---or wait to L.A. or Cin. I'm going to let you sweat it out but I assure you I'm going to kill you both so every time go out to the outfield you can look anxiously towards the stands for I'll be there and be sure to say goodbye to your family each morning for between now and the next two weeks or so you will have said goodbye for the last time. If this was an idle threat why would I go to all this trouble: I ASSURE YOU I AM GOING TO KILL YOU BOTH."
(Signed), Outraged and despondent pain wracked

     The letters that had crossed the borderline of insanity had been postmarked on September 18th. The team tried to keep it quiet, but rumors were flying around, and security had clearly been tightened up. Brock and McBride both had been assigned protection, and on September 29th a press conference was held at the offices at Wrigley Field in Chicago to inform the public why the measures had been implemented.  Brock sat by the side of Bing Devine and helped explain the situation. McBride sat out the press conference, but I believe it is safe to say he had more than baseball on his mind. Brock acknowledged that the threats affected his play on the field, but he did not know to what extent. The book titled "Bob Forsch's Tales From The Cardinals Dugout" makes it seem as if Lou took it in stride, while the rookie McBride had a much harder time dealing with it. The toll it had to take on both players had to be greater than anyone could realize. A variety of parties became involved in trying to find the person who had sent the letters, which included the head of Major League Baseball's security, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, as well as the FBI.  To my knowledge the culprit was not caught.

     The club stumbled over the last week of the season, and eventually lost the division title to the Pirates by just one and a half games. Hard to say if the threats had a hand in that division title being stripped away, but ultimately that hardly matters. What matters more than the numbers in the standings is that the two players were safe and sound. Some speculated it was a cruel joke to rattle the players, however, that was simply speculation, and it is very possible that the person had every intention on hurting both players. I searched and searched without being able to find more information about the case, so I imagine as time moved on it went cold, and Brock and McBride moved on with their lives.

     Through the years there have been well documented cases of athletes being threatened. Hank Aaron received numerous threat as he approached Babe Ruth's coveted home run record, and there have been many more cases of threats in the sports world as well. Even today when someone drops a ball in a big game or an umpire makes a bad call they are subject to death threats. It is my opinion that fans that make those threats are not fans at all. In the end they are cowards hiding behind anonymity.

     There is one well documented case of an obsessed fan shooting a player in 1949. The player's name was Eddie Waitkus. He had played for the Cubs for a number of years, but eventually the was traded to the Phillies. The fan, and obsessed woman who had become infatuated with him while he played in Chicago lured him into a trap and shot him. Waitkus was able to recover, but the incident was something that he carried with him the rest of his life. The reason I bring up Waitkus is because while most cases of people threatening athletes might be looked at as a bad joke, there is a very real possibility that someone could snap, and the worse case scenario could play out. That is why each threat must be taken seriously.

     No player, coach, or umpire deserves to have their life threatened. I can only imagine how bad the nerves of Brock and McBride must have been during that tumultuous time in their lives. It is times like those that sensible people realize it is just a game, and life means so much more than any game. Unfortunately, everyone does not have that sensibility.

If you are interested in knowing more about the aforementioned story about Eddie Waitkus check this out:

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