Former Tribe Pitcher Locke Dead at 86
Bob Toth | On 11, Jun 2020
Bobby Locke, a pitcher for five different Major League clubs over a nine-year big league career from 1959 to 1968, passed away on June 4 at the age of 86.
Born Lawrence Donald Locke on March 3, 1934, in the coal mining town of Rowes Run, Pennsylvania, “Bobby” attended Redstone High School in Republic, Pennsylvania. The eighth of ten kids and a two-sport star, he was a fullback, defensive back, and punter for the club and made the Fayette County All-Star team in football. On the diamond, he threw two no-hitters during his high school pitching career, but also played some outfield or anywhere else he was asked.
After high school, Locke headed to Arizona State University on a football scholarship, but quickly gave up on the sport and returned home. He signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Indians in October of 1952 to work as an outfielder and pitcher in their system and did so for a $6,000 bonus.
Locke worked his way through the farm system, putting together a strong 17-7 record with a 2.70 ERA in his second season in 1954 with the Sherbrooke Indians and an 18-9 mark in 1956 with a 2.43 ERA for the Reading Indians. He looked ready to make the jump to the Majors, but lost his 1957 and 1958 seasons to serving with the U.S. Army over in Germany. He returned to baseball in 1959 and played well for the Indians’ Triple-A San Diego Padres affiliate that season, earning him a call-up to the Majors.
He made his big league debut on June 18, 1959, taking on the Boston Red Sox from Fenway Park. He gave up a couple of runs in his first inning of work as four straight reached against him before he earned his career strikeout. Later in the contest during his second at bat with runners on the corners and two outs against Frank Sullivan, he took the opposing starter deep, clearing the Green Monster in left to put the Indians up by a 5-2 count. The Red Sox came back to win the game, 7-6, leaving Locke with a no-decision, but a memorable first game.
The home run was the only one of his MLB career. The three RBI accounted for a quarter of the run production that he provided his clubs in 113 plate appearances.
Locke finished his debut season with a 3-2 record in 24 games (seven starts) while earning a pair of saves and a 3.13 ERA. He split time in 1960 between the minors and Cleveland, going 3-5 with a 3.37 ERA in 32 games (11 starts) while throwing his first two complete game shutouts of his career. He made 37 appearances (four starts) for the Indians in 1961, going 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA while working mainly out of the bullpen.
Following the season, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Fred Kendall, but the Cubs moved him to St. Louis prior to the start of game play. He started the season with the Cardinals and made one appearance before he joined his third team of the year before the close of April when he was traded to Philadelphia. The rest of his career included a lot of time back in the minors. He remained with the Phillies organization through the conclusion of the 1964 season, when he was acquired by the California Angels. He played half a season there before he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in late July of 1965, but he returned to the west coast the following June when the Angels reacquired him. He played at the Major League level through the 1968 season and logged some more time in the minors in 1969, but that was his final season of organized professional baseball.
In 165 total big league appearances (including 23 starts), Locke earned a 16-15 record with ten saves and a 4.02 ERA. Ninety-three of those games came while representing the Indians organization.
Injuries both preceding and during his playing career may have cost him a longer stint in the Majors. While pitching during his brief time with the Cubs, he injured his elbow and saw his role on the mound change from that of a starter to a reliever. An old injury caught up to him later in his career, and he spoke about it in 2009 with the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I broke my wrist playing football back in high school,” Locke shared. “I didn’t know it was broken. It was a real small bone in the wrist and I noticed the next spring that I wasn’t throwing the ball as hard as I should. As I continued in my career I would notice my wrist would swell. I pitched my whole career with that problem. Dr. Hutchinson, he the brother of Fred Hutchinson the manager of the Cincinnati Reds – I was batting with Cincinnati and I got jammed and my fingers swelled up. They x-rayed my fingers and they noticed the wrist problem. It was one in a million that you could ever pitch with that small broken bone. It was the smallest bone in the wrist and it had healed improperly.
“I could have been better, believe me if it wasn’t for that broken wrist I’d have been a lot better,” Locke added in regards to his career.
Following his playing days, Locke returned home to Pennsylvania. He played some amateur baseball, was a registered beauty shop operator, worked for the Postal Service, and spent 26 years as a salesman for Frito-Lay. He was inducted into a pair of Hall of Fames – the Mid-Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Photo: 1960 Topps Baseball card