It’s been 35 years since Lou Brock was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the crowning achievement in a career that included reaching the 3,000-hit plateau, stealing more than 900 bases and winning two World Series titles.
To honor his memory — Brock passed away last week at 81 — I decided I’d watch him deliver his induction speech thanks to an archived YouTube video. Then, I emailed the link to Jamestown native Dan Lunetta.
I knew he would appreciate it.
“Thanks for the video,” said Lunetta, the director of minor league operations for the Detroit Tigers, in an email Monday morning. “I haven’t seen this, but I will certainly enjoy watching. Maybe I’ll get the manuscript out and read along with him.”
Lunetta wasn’t kidding.
Because, you see, the pieces of paper that Brock was reading from the podium outside the iconic building in Cooperstown in 1985 can now be found stored away in Lunetta’s home in Lakeland, Florida.
It was a truly a Hall-of-Fame gift.
Lunetta began his baseball career as a groundskeeper at the former College Stadium, now Diethrick Park, in 1979. Since then, his professional odyssey through America’s pastime has taken him from Jamestown, to Montreal, to Buffalo, to Cincinnati, to Florida, back to Montreal and then to Detroit.
But what happened on the shores of Otsego Lake in 1985 is one of Lunetta’s most cherished, because it was when he was asked to be Brock’s attache during Hall of Fame weekend.
“It started with Gene Aversa, who at that time was the general manager with Group W Cable (in Jamestown),” Lunetta recalled. “I believe Lou had a personal-services contract with Group W. … I think it was the spring of 1985 after his selection was announced that Gene had called and asked if I would be interested and be able to go to Cooperstown with Lou and his family. … Of course, I told Gene — I couldn’t get my answer out quick enough — that I would go, but I had to clear it with Mike Billoni, who was then my boss with the (Buffalo) Bisons.”
Billoni gave Lunetta the green light and plans were made for the latter to head to Cooperstown a few months later.
“(Aversa) was kind of the pioneer of local programing in Jamestown, so part of the arrangement was we were going to do an interview with Lou at Cooperstown,” Lunetta said. “I was going to do the interview and Dan (Swackhammer) was the tech guy.”
Lunetta also had another responsibility: He assisted Brock with his Hall-of-Fame speech.
“I was with him while he was drafting the speech,” Lunetta said. “He gave me the speech when the weekend was over. I have that in my own baseball archives here at home. … That was pretty cool to have his hand-written speech.”
As it turned out, that was only part of Lunetta’s memorable weekend.
“Lou was so easy to get along with. He was such a classy guy and fine human being that it wasn’t hard to strike up a relationship with him,” Lunetta said. “He was so easy to be around. He always made you feel so comfortable.
“I’m five years into my career and to be in the presence of an individual like Lou, who accomplished what he did, it was — I don’t know how to describe it — one of those times in my career when you think, ‘Am I really here?’ I hadn’t even finished my first year in Buffalo after finishing up the early part of my career in Jamestown and Florida, and here I was being part of Lou Brock’s Hall-of-Fame induction.”
Lunetta was all of 30 years old.
“Having the opportunity to spend that time with Lou and his family, getting close to him and helping him that weekend with whatever he needed was a fabulous experience,” he said.
But there was more, including meeting past inductees Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella.
“I wasn’t there to say much,” Lunetta said with a laugh. “That was an opportunity to listen to stories those guys told. That was pretty special.”
But it wasn’t the end of his remarkable journey.
On Sunday evening following the Hall-of-Fame ceremony, Lunetta drove to Albany and took a flight to Chicago with an ultimate destination of Denver where the Bisons were playing a Triple A game the next day.
“I got on the plane in Albany and I’m sitting in coach,” Lunetta said. “While we were still at the gate, the flight attendant came back to get me.”
She said that he was wanted in first class — by Ernie Banks.
“I had an hour and a half just me and Ernie on the fight to Chicago,” Lunetta said. “I had to keep pinching myself. Just thinking about this is incredible. How is it that I’m seven or eight months out of finishing the first part of my career in Jamestown and I’m in Cooperstown with Lou Brock meeting some of my boyhood heroes and then I’m sitting in a plane with Ernie Banks on a fight to Chicago.
“I always think back on those experiences and those opportunities — as short as they were — and how they made such a huge impact on my career. … Thanks to Gene Aversa that that relationship with Lou happened. That doesn’t happen without Gene being an integral part.”