RIP to Bobby Locke, who pitched for five different teams throughout the 1950s and ’60s. He died on June 4 in Uniontown, Pa., at the age of 86. Locke played for the Cleveland Indians (1959-61), St. Louis Cardinals (1962), Philadelphia Phillies (1962-64), Cincinnati Reds (1965) and California Angels (1967-68).
Lawrence Donald Locke was born in Rowes Run, Pa., on March 3, 1934. Where did “Bobby” come from? It was just a name he was called, evidently. Locke seemed to really prefer Bobby, as I’ll explain in a few paragraphs
According to his Legacy obituary, Locke was an excellent football and baseball player at Redstone High School in Republic, Pa. He passed up a football scholarship from Arizona State University to play baseball professionally. He signed with the Indians on October 22, 1952. The team called him a “young phenomenon” on the baseball diamond and noted he could pitch and play the outfield.
Locke attended the Indians’ minor-league camp the following spring and spent all of 1953 with the Daytona Beach Islanders of the Florida State League. He won 13 games there and then 17 more in 1954 for a team in Sherbrooke, Quebec. In addition to pitching well and winning ballgames, Locke also hit over .270 each season and was frequently used as a pinch-hitter.
After pitching for three different teams in 1955 — and not very well with any of them — Locke went 18-9 with the 1956 Reading Indians with an excellent 2.43 ERA. The Indians prepared to move him higher up their organization for the 1957 season, but he was called into military service. He spent a couple of years serving in the Army in Germany. He returned back to baseball in 1959 and was assigned to the AAA San Diego Padres. In 13 games, 12 of which were starts, Locke racked up a 6-4 record and 1.80 ERA. After that string of good pitching, the Indians brought him to the majors.
Locke’s major-league debut was a memorable one, though not for his mound work. He was the starter on June 18, 1959 against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. He was touched for a couple runs in the first inning, threw two scoreless innings and gave up a run in the fourth when he gave up a bases-loaded walk to Don Buddin. He also hit pinch-hitter Ted Williams in that inning. He gave up back-to-back homers to Vic Wertz and Jackie Jensen in the fifth inning and was removed in the sixth after getting the first two outs. His bat was the big story, though. In the top of the fourth inning, after George Strickland tripled and Dick Brown walked, Locke crushed a three-run homer off the Sox starter Frank Sullivan to momentarily give Cleveland the lead. It was the only home run he hit in his big-league career.
Locke made 6 more starts for Cleveland, but he was mostly used as a mop-up reliever. He appeared in 24 games and worked 77-2/3 innings, ending the season with a 3-2 record, 2 saves and a 3.13 ERA. In a two-week stretch in August, he made 5 relief appearances totaling 19-1/3 innings, walked 5, fanned 10 and had a 0.92 ERA. His excellent work went largely unnoticed because the Indians were always losing when he was brought in to pitch. It was only after a 2-inning save on August 19 when he struck out 3 of the 5 Senators he faced did he start to get some appreciation from Cleveland fans.
Locke was supposed to be one of the youngsters to pick up the slack left by departing starter Cal McLish in 1960. General Manager Frank Lane put him in the company of Jim Perry, Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Gary Bell. “Locke, in many ways, has the best stuff of any of them,” Lane said. “If we can get Larry out of the clouds, he will be terrific.” I’ll explain that statement in a moment. The 1960 season was kind of a repeat of ’59, as Locke started the season in the minors, was brought up the the Indians in the summer and immediately filled holes in the pitching staff. He appeared in 32 games, including 11 starts, and went 3-5 with 2 saves and a 3.37 ERA. He picked up 55 strikeouts in a career-high 123 innings.
So about the “clouds” comment from Lane. Locke was called “Orbit” by his Cleveland teammates because he was a little spacey at times. As an example from columnist Jim Schlemmer of the Akron Beacon Journal: Up until he made it to the major leagues, he was Larry Locke from Grindstone, Pa. When he got brought up to the majors, some of the Cleveland sportswriters saw him in Boston and said things like, “Welcome aboard, Larry.” After the third time, he demanded, “Where do youse guys get that Larry business?”
The writers apologized and thought that had mistaken a stranger for the Larry Locke they met at the Indians spring training camp in Tuscon. “I was at Tucson, but my name ain’t Larry and never was; it’s Bobby.”
The writers, now thoroughly confused, pressed him for details. Why did he want to be called Bobby? “It’s my name, that’s why.”
Then why did you answer to Larry in spring training? “Because I was just a rookie then and didn’t want to cross youse writers. And another thing; I don’t come from Grindstone, Pa. I come from Rowes Run.”
Where the heck is Rowes Run? “Rowes Run is just a little place. We get our mail in Grindstone.”
Locke finally got to spent the entire season with Cleveland in 1961, and he ended up with a 4-4 record and 4.53 ERA. He gave up 12 home runs in 95-1/3 innings and walked more batters (40) than he struck out (37). When the winter meetings started up in November, Locke was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Jerry Kindall. That marks the start of his rather nomadic career.
Locke started spring training with the Cubs and made headlines when he was taken out of a ballgame… by himself. His arm tightened up during an intrasquad game, and as this was the era of the College of Coaches, he didn’t know which coach to tell he was done for the day. So he just walked off the mound and reported to the trainer. Head coach Elvin Tappe, who wasn’t even around for the game, said it was a misunderstanding. Some of the other coaches were less forgiving. Locke, for his part, felt the move was entirely justified.
“I’m the only pitcher around here smart enough to do what I did,” he told the press later. “I know this weather here in the spring and you can’t afford to take chances.”
Locke never appeared in a regular-season game with the Cubs and was traded to the Cardinals for a minor-leaguer before the end of training camp. The Cubs were not a good fit for him. The team even gave him a manual about how to play baseball, which he never read. “I thought I knew how,” he later explained. He also never understood the College of Coaches concept, either — he was far from alone in that sentiment.
“I never saw a setup like that with all these coaches. It’s like we got a new president of the U.S. every two weeks,” he cracked.
Locke threw 2 shutout innings for the Cardinals in his only appearance with the team. He was then traded to the Phillies, making them his third team of 1962, and it was still April. He flew into New York City on the day the team was playing a doubleheader against the Mets. He changed into his uniform, was thrown into the nightcap and pitched 4-2/3 innings of 1-hit, scoreless relief to pick up his first National League win. He made four more appearances with the Phillies and was hit hard each time. He was sent to the minors with a 5.74 ERA and spent the rest of ’62 with the AAA Buffalo Bisons.
“The manager [Gene Mauch] called me into his office and said he didn’t think I was pitching well,” he recalled in an interview. “I couldn’t tell him I didn’t think he was managing so hot either, so I went.”
It was like that for the next two seasons with the Phillies. Locke spent most of 1963 and ’64 in the minors and made a total of 17 appearances with the big-league club. Whenever he was called up, the Philadelphia beat writers were overjoyed. Regardless of how he pitched, he was always good for a story. Over the 1962 offseason, he went to a beautician school in Pennsylvania and announced that he wanted to open his own beauty salon. No other ballplayer could make that claim.
Part of the reason that he started so many seasons in the minor leagues was that he took the offseasons off — earning a beautician license, for instance. When he came to training camp, he was at a disadvantage to those players who had played in winter ball or trained rigorously in the offseason. He admitted it probably cost him four or five major-league seasons. “For me, spring training is just that — a time to prepare your arm for when it counts. And I need all of that time because I don’t even touch a baseball between seasons,” he said.
In three seasons with the Phillies, Locke appeared in a total of 22 games and had a 1-0 record and 4.53 ERA. He was acquired by the California Angels after the 1964 season and then traded to Cincinnati on July 28, 1965 for pitcher Jim Coates. The Reds needed the bullpen help, and Locke had gone 12-5 with a 2.31 ERA for Seattle in the Angels’ minor leagues. In 11 games, Locke lost one game and had a 5.71 in 11 relief outings.
Locke spent all of 1966 in the minors and was acquired by the Angels again. He won 12 games for Seattle in 1967 and led the Pacific Coast League with a 2.22 ERA. Some of that success in the PCL may have been due to a strategic use of a spitball. “I throw them only to people I don’t like,” he admitted to a Seattle reporter.
The Angels brought Locke back to the majors at the end of 1967, and he made an immediate splash, with 3 wins and 2 saves in 9 games. He won his only start, giving up 4 runs in 5 innings against the Orioles, but he was nearly unhittable as a reliever and posted a 2.33 ERA for the Angels. He once again was a mid-season call-up in 1968 after pitching in Seattle and Hawaii. His luck didn’t hold up, as he was 2-3 with a 6.44 ERA in 29 relief appearances with the Angels. Those were his last games in the major leagues. He pitched for Hawaii and Syracuse in 1969 and retired after the season, at the age of 35.
In parts of 9 seasons in the majors, Locke appeared in 165 games, including 23 starts. He had a 16-15 record with 10 saves, and he also tossed 2 shutouts. He had a 4.02 ERA and struck out 194 batters in 416-2/3 innings. The former outfielder also hit a solid .255, with 25 hits and 12 RBIs in 98 at-bats.
Locked played amateur baseball in Pennsylvania for a few years. He primarily worked as a salesman for Frito-Lay Inc. for 26 years before retiring. He was inducted into the Mid-Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
There are those in baseball who march to the beat of a different drummer, and then there are those who march to an entirely different brass band. Locke was definitely in the latter category, by his own admission. “I don’t mind being called flaky,” he said once. “You have to be flaky to play this game.”