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Tales from the Bullpen: Skip Lockwood

From sharing a locker with Satchel Paige to being the first free agent signing in Red Sox history, Skip Lockwood’s Major League career was never boring. In his new book, Insight Pitch, he shares many of his stories about the game, including being among the first wave of baseball game-saving relievers in the 1970s.

What was it like to enter the Major Leagues as a teenager?
Right out of high school, I had a chance to sign with the Kansas City A’s. I was a third baseman, and Ed Charles, the team’s third baseman, was getting a little older. I was trying to carve out a career for myself as an infielder, but it wasn’t going very well. I spent a year in the big leagues, because at the time, they had the bonus protection rule. Teams had to protect the “bonus babies” on the big league club, or they would lose them in the draft.

The 1965 A’s was a pretty young team.
There were four or five us that stayed with the A’s in 1965—Catfish Hunter, Joe Rudi, Rene Lachemann. We were kids! I wasn’t playing very much, but I had a chance to play in the big leagues as a third baseman. Then I had to go in the service for a year to fulfill my military obligation. When I got back, I wasn’t hitting very well. Charlie Finley, the owner of the team who I considered a mentor, called me. You have one of those conversations where you think you are in trouble, but Charlie said he thought I could be a pitcher, and it turned my career around.

When you signed your contract, did you have an agent?
There was no such thing as an agent. My father bought some cigars, and teams came to visit. We knew the A’s would come in last. The only leverage I had at all was that the A’s were the last team in. I was too young and naive to lie. Pat Friday was the GM of the A’s and he asked, “What have you been offered? I’m willing to match it.” The number $35,000 came up, which in 1964 was a lot of money. I had a scholarship to Holy Cross, so I had something to fall back on. My father got up from the table and said, “Skip, this is your life. You can do whatever you want with it.” Being a little bit arrogant, I told Pat Friday I wanted one more thing. He gave me the pen, and I wrote a 1 in front of the 35,000.

That must have gone over well, asking for an extra $100,000.
Pat Friday got Charlie Finley on the phone, and Charlie asked “Why should I give you that kind of money?” And I said, “Because I’ll make you a winner.” Thank goodness I got a little bit of money, because my third base skills were not that good, but Charlie kept me around longer than he should have.

I think most people’s recollections of Charlie Finley were that he was notoriously cheap and that he created a circus-like atmosphere. Your book paints a very generous image of Finley.
Charlie saved my life four times. First of all, he gave me a   contract. Second of all, he gave me a chance to comeback from the minor leagues. In 1975, Charlie gave me a contract without even knowing if I could still play. After I did pitch well in AAA, he gave me a choice of a couple of different choices of teams who wanted to sign me. Charlie was an innovator and a showman. He had Charlie O, the mule, and a menagerie of different kind of farm animals. He had sheep in the outfield (laughs). But for me, he was a guy who stuck with me and was very loyal.

As you started your career, you were roommates with Catfish Hunter. What was he like?
Catfish and I couldn’t be more different. I was a kid with a Boston accent and coke bottle glasses. Catfish was an outdoorsman from Hertford, North Carolina. He was my roommate in winter ball in 1964. We were at the Manatee River Hotel in Bradenton. We had never met before, and I got to the room first. He knocks on the door, and limps in. It looked like there was blood coming from his shoe! I said, “Jim, what’s happening with your foot?” He said, “Hey, hey, hey, I don’t want Finley to know this, but I shot my little toe off in a hunting accident last week. But I don’t want Finley to know at all. (laughs)” Catfish was a gamer. He threw strikes; he challenged guys. He could pitch a game in two hours. He was just phenomenal.

You also shared a locker with Satchel Paige in your rookie year. That’s amazing.
I wished I had known. I know the name now, but back then, he was just a guy I had heard of. When I got to the ballpark one day, the press was all over the place. They had moved an easy chair next to my stool. I literally shared a locker with Satchel Paige. I don’t know how old he was. I was 17. He seemed older than me by a good 50 years. He was a guy who was a string bean right-handed thrower, who would pitch both ends of a doubleheader in the Negro Leagues for $50 a game. He had stories upon stories. He had all his own euphemisms. He was just an amazing character. I think Charlie was trying to get him some additional Major League service time. But Charlie was a showman. He knew how to get people in the seats.

Here’s the most amazing thing about Satchel. He was listed as being 59 years old at that time. And he threw three Major League innings, and only gave up one hit!
He had these long arms. He would tell stories about how he would start two or three days in a row. He was a unique guy.

The ’65 A’s finished in 10th place with a very young team. Could you see the beginnings of the talent that would form the 1972-1974 championship teams?
I played next to Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, joe Rudi, Rick Monday. It was pretty evident that Charlie was signing young men with a lot of talent. I tell you one thing— I never saw anybody that had as much talent as Reggie Jackson. He joined the cub in Modesto, California. Every swing he took, the ball left the ballpark. He could throw, he could run. He had muscles. We didn’t have muscles back then. I never saw anyone with talent like that before in my life.

In 1969, you were drafted by the Seattle Pilots. What was it like playing on an expansion team?
It was like baseball’s version of The Dirty Dozen. Every team was allowed to freeze 10 or 15 players, and the rest went into a draft pool. By definition, the guys that got drafted weren’t high on the list of any other clubs. I was making the transition from third baseman to pitcher. Rich Rollins was the third baseman for that club. When my contract comes in the mail, it has my name, the amount of money I am being paid, and the date to report to spring training. It doesn’t say anything about where they are going to play me. I thought they had drafted me as a third baseman. I get to spring training, they give us a pep talk, and then everyone runs out on to the field. Rich Rollins and I run over to third base to start fielding ground balls. The pitching coach yells at me, “Lockwood, what are you doing! Get out in the outfield with the rest of the pitchers!” Well, no one told me that they wanted me to pitch. Rich Rollins must have thought that I was nuts.

We think of Seattle as a great baseball town now, but back then, it was very different.
Seattle is a long way to travel. Every road trip took forever when we had to travel. Sick’s Stadium was cold. It was a Triple-A field, and no one came out to the games. It was a team that people forgot. It didn’t last very long. Bud Selig bought the franchise in the last ten days of the season. All the bats and balls and everything were heading on a truck to Seattle. And the team got on a plane and went to Milwaukee.

So what happened?
We didn’t even have any uniforms! We didn’t have any hats. And all of our luggage was on a truck heading to Seattle. We didn’t even have hotel reservations. They took the spring training uniforms and took off the name “Pilots” on the front and put “Brewers” on it, but you could still see the “Pilots” on the uniform. It was weeks before we had any uniforms. It was winter time in Milwaukee, so they didn’t even stock baseballs in the sporting goods stores. We didn’t have bats. It was chaotic when the team got sold to Milwaukee.

Wasn’t that the same season that Jim Bouton wrote about in Ball Four?
Jim Bouton was an altar boy. The things he wrote about in the book were very tame compared to what actually happened. The stories were the most benign ones he could have picked. The team was completely cuckoo. The shenanigans on and off the field were completely nutty. Joe Schultz was the manager, and he was crazy enough. We were in last place by the 4th of July with no other place to go.

Given that most of the salacious stories weren’t in the book, were you surprised by the uproar that Ball Four created?
What made it different was that Jim Bouton named names. He got in trouble with his teammates later for talking about certain people doing certain things. I was shocked that it got as much attention as it got. It has funny stories, as my book does. I hope my book gets as much attention as his did!

You were also briefly a Yankee.
I was a Yankee for at least a month (laughs). I was the last one cut out of spring training on the last day. I thought for sure that my career was over. Charlie Finley signed me again and hid me away in Tucson for a little bit, and I ended up pitching well in AAA. I was pitching well in the minors, throwing hard and throwing strikes. At that point, I felt I’d get a chance to pitch again. I didn’t know what it was going to be like in a big media circus like New York, when I signed with the Mets, but I liked it. I liked that I had 24 guys on the team that had confidence in me. Two guys in particular, Rusty Staub and Eddie Kranepool, both of those guys came to me and helped me. And then there was guy named Tom Seaver, who was a scientist in a baseball uniform. Tom helped me to figure out what the hitters were looking for, and how to throw away from the strike zone when you needed to. People don’t know this but Tom would get sick before he threw. This was a veteran pitcher, but he was so intense and took it so seriously. The team raised me up and allowed me to pitch better, because they cared so much.

Why do you think you found your best success as a relief pitcher?
I go to play every day. Joe Torre told Eddie Kranepool the same thing. He said, “Eddie, I’m not going to start you. I have Dave Kingman. But every day, I’m going to give you an at bat that has meaning. You’re going to get a chance to drive in the winning run.” The same is true for me. I got to pitch when the game was on the line. We usually had the lead. They were important outs. I was a way better pitcher as a reliever than as a starter. Pitching every day made me stronger mentally and physically.

Why did you leave New York?
I never would have left New York on my own. The team was in transition. The Doubleday family had just purchased the team. They were undecided whether they wanted me back in uniform. We had a house in New York; I was going to school there. As it turned out, Boston was where I grew up, and I was the first free agent that the Red Sox ever signed, so I came back home to Boston. Boston is a difficult place to play to begin with, but for a hometown boy, it’s even tougher. You have to play well, the newspapers are looking closely at you, and to be quite honest, I didn’t quite have my best stuff.

What did you do when your baseball career was over?
I was determined to have another professional career. I decided to get an MBA, so I was accepted at MIT and got a business degree there, and had a banking career when I was finished playing.

You retired from the game after the 1980 season. Why did you feel this was the right time to write a memoir?
Baseball stories are always best told with a glass of cold beer at a bar. I always wanted to be able to tell my stories, and you be able to bring you out there. I wanted to slow baseball down so that you can see what it’s like as an insider—tell you the stories of what goes on on the field in the dugouts. If I could capture a voice for doing that, people reading it would see the authenticity of it. It took me a couple of years to write Insight Pitch. I tried to put you in uniform with me, so you could see it and feel it.

Skip Lockwood’s book, Insight Pitch (Sports Publishing) is available at Amazon.com.

 

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