SABR

Skip Lockwood

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

How many teams sign a pitcher who was 22-2 in high school with the plan of making him a third baseman? And then write him a signing bonus of $35,000 – and accept him writing in the figure “1” on the check to convert it into $135,000? The Kansas City Athletics did both, all without knowing he wore contact lenses.

Skip Lockwood (his given name was Claude, named after this father) was born of mixed European background in the Roslindale section of Boston on August 17, 1946.i He grew up in nearby Norwood, attending junior high school there, and then went on to West Roxbury’s Catholic Memorial High School.

Lockwood lettered in basketball and track in high school, was the captain of the baseball team in his senior year, and was All-Massachusetts Scholastic and All-Catholic for two years in baseball, and the MVP of the Catholic Conference. As a youngster he also played Little League and American Legion ball, played in the 1963 Hearst Sandlot Classic game at Yankee Stadium, and played on some semipro town teams. On graduation from high school he signed with the Athletics in June 1964 as a third baseman, in good part on the basis of his .416 high-school batting average.ii He was pretty fast, too, clocked at running the 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds. As a pitcher, though, Lockwood was 22-2, and that really attracted attention.

As a young woman his mother, Florence (Gorman) Lockwood, had danced with the Rockettes in New York under the name Rosebud Gorman. She had danced ballet and taught ballet, and Lockwood said he believes she may have waitressed at times but most of the time she was a homemaker raising Skip and his sister, Elizabeth (Betty), eight years younger.

His father, Claude, was the assistant coach of Skip’s Little League team, and very actively supportive and involved in his development as a young athlete. Skip – who was given the nickname at the age of 2– was fortunate to be able to play ball after a childhood accident in the home of a relative. “As a little kid, I nearly cut my right arm off. I was maybe 4 or 5 at the time and I was misbehaving, jumping when I shouldn’t have, and I lost my balance and my right arm went through a window. The pane came down and cut it bad. Almost cut it off. My dad brought a baseball and glove home and we started to play catch just as a way of getting some use for the arm, physical therapy. It was pretty badly cut. He was thinking that I would have limited use of it. He and I enjoyed it, so we’d play catch when he’d get back from work every night. I liked that. Then I’d play with the boys on the street and a little bit on the schoolyard. I got good at it, way before little boys would ordinarily be playing catch, because I was trying to build my arm up.”iii

Claude Lockwood worked for Colson Corporation of Somerville, Massachusetts. “He started as a lathe operator, I believe, and then went into purchasing,” Skip said. “He worked as a machine operator and then worked his way up. In those days, it was string ties and pocket protectors. He thought of himself as a white-collar worker.”iv

As noted, Skip signed to play baseball right after high school. He had the opportunity to go to Holy Cross, but he also was being actively scouted. After the Hearst Sandlot game at the Polo Grounds, “the scouts began to come and watch me play. They all wore blue suits, they all had baseball caps on. Everybody smoked a cigar. Bill Enos [at the time a Kansas City scout from Cohasset, Massachusetts] was one of many, but I got to be friendly with him. He may have given my father a box of cigars or something like that, but he asked to be the last one who came in. This was before the draft, the year before the draft. Teams came in and made an offer to you. I think there were six or seven that came in and made offers the day I signed. Kansas City was the last. Bill brought Pat Friday with him. Pat was the general manager, originally an insurance executive.”v

The offers were good ones. The Houston Colt .45’s were one of the seven teams that had scouted him, and their interest was in him as a pitcher. They made an offer of $35,000. Fresh out of high school, Skip was ready to sign, he told David Laurila. “This was in Norwood. My dad and mom were there, and Pat Friday … came in and he says, ‘What have you been offered?’ I didn’t have the sense to lie to him, so I said, ‘$35,000.’ ”vi Friday said the Athletics would match that and placed a contract in front of him.

“I said, ‘I’ll need your pen.’ He passed the pen across. I said, ‘I’m going to add one more thing.’ He said, ‘OK. …’ And I put a ‘1’ in front of the $35,000 and passed the contract back to him and said, ‘Is that agreeable?’  He had to make a phone call, and in the end it was agreeable. A little ballsy for a 17-year-old. I felt I was worth it. My dad and I had talked about it and it was hard to put a value on the cost of an education, but it cost about the $35,000 at the time, and I wanted to see if I couldn’t position myself to have a career. In the days when I played, you didn’t make any money. It was pretty much that when your career ended, you would have to work. I always felt that having a degree was something I was going to need. I made a silent promise to my father that I would go and get a college degree if I could.”vii

He added, “It was the largest bonus on record to date, and it kept me around, in the league, probably more than I deserved to be.”viii

After high school it was on to baseball – but also to a protracted college education, beginning in the offseasons with Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. Over time, Skip also attended Boston College, Bryant and Stratton Commercial School, Marquette University in Milwaukee, and Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. One writer said that he led the league in colleges attended. ix In 1976, in his eighth year in the majors, he graduated cum laude from Emerson College in Boston with a B.S. in speech.

Lockwood later attended Fairfield University in the offseasons for a master’s degree in business and industrial communication. Continuing his education is an ongoing theme in his life.

Right upon signing, though, there wasn’t even time for Skip to go to his senior prom. He was placed with the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League (Class A) in 1964 and appeared in 64 games, hitting five homers and driving in 29 runs while hitting .208. He had struggled with hitting for a couple of reasons. Basically, he says, “I wasn’t a very good hitter. I was a good high-school hitter, but not in the pros.”x A good part of the reason he wasn’t very successful hitting was that he had difficulty picking up the rotation of the ball during night games – he hadn’t played night games in high school. One of the reasons was that he wasn’t wearing glasses. When he first reported to Kansas City before being assigned to Burlington, GM Friday first learned that Skip needed corrective vision. “Friday didn’t know I wrote glasses, because I wore contacts. He saw my glasses and said, ‘For God’s sake, don’t wear those things.’ He was fired about a year after.”xi

Lockwood told another reporter. “I’ve worn glasses since I was about 10. Of course, it never bothered me in high school, but under the lights in the minors was something else. I just couldn’t pick up the rotation of the ball. Luke Appling tutored me. Lots of people tried to help. I don’t know. Maybe I was just a lousy hitter.”xii

Because of the bonus rule, he had to spend all of 1965 sitting on the Kansas City bench watching Ed Charles play third base. Under the bonus rule of the day, a major-league ballclub had to keep the signee on its own roster for the first year or see him subject to the draft. For 1965, Lockwood traveled with the Athletics, rooming with fellow bonus signee Catfish Hunter. Again, he only played third base and not very much of that, appearing in 42 games but getting only 41 plate appearances and playing in only seven games at third base with a total of 13 chances. He handled the fielding without an error, batted .121 with four hits (all singles) and 11 strikeouts, didn’t drive in a single run, but did score four times.

In 1966 Lockwood was sent to California and played for the Modesto Reds, hitting .264 (with six home runs) in 106 games and over the course of 382 at-bats. He did pitch all of one inning, but it was enough to win a game. It was back to Iowa and the Bees in 1967 for a partial season, and he hit .245 in 204 at-bats. The latter part of 1966 and much of 1967 were spent in the Army Reserve at Fort Dix. “I didn’t have a 2-S student deferment because I wasn’t in school. So I got a letter which said, ‘Please report for your induction physical.’ I called a state senator quickly – it might have been Dukakis, I’m not sure – and pulled a string or two, and got into the Army Reserve. Like overnight. Before my induction physical. They took me to basic training and AIT (advanced individual training) the next spring. So I lost all the winter, almost the entire ’67 season, with Army stuff.”xiii

With the Rule 5 draft coming up in November, the Athletics tried to deceive other teams by having Lockwood work as a pitcher in the Arizona Instructional League that winter. A’s owner Charlie Finley later acknowledged that they had no intention of making a pitcher out of him, and would have tried to move him to shortstop the following year if he weren’t taken, asking him to pitch that fall and frankly admitting, “We didn’t figure he would look too good on the mound and we thought we might be able to camouflage him and get him through the draft.”xiv

It didn’t work. Houston scout Karl Kuehl saw past the results and despite Lockwood’s giving up four runs in four innings over three games, Kuehl had that vision that good scouts possess and felt Skip had “outstanding potential.” Houston personnel director Tal Smith said, “We weren’t interested in him as an infielder. But he has a great arm and we want to take a look at him as a pitcher.”xv

Lockwood was drafted by the Houston Astros. The Astros, of course, were the renamed Colt 45’s, so Lockwood was back with the team that had wanted to sign him as a pitcher out of high school. They got him for the $25,000 Rule 5 price, and would get half that money back if he didn’t make the Astros’ 25-man roster the next year and was returned to the Athletics.

Lockwood was in the Houston organization that offseason for a little over four months, but when faced with the need to keep him on the roster or return him to the Athletics (now the relocated Oakland Athletics), the Astros returned him on April 3, 1968.

It was in 1968 that the right-handed Lockwood began to pitch, with the Peninsula Grays (Carolina League) and the Birmingham A’s (in the Double-A Southern Association). He appeared in 21 games, with a 6-3 record with the Class A Grays, and a 3.32 ERA in 17 games (10 of them starts) over the course of 65 innings. He threw only 10 innings for Birmingham, with a 5.40 ERA but no decisions. In the October 1968 expansion draft, the newly forming Seattle Pilots took Skip as the 46th overall selection. Elmira in 1969 was much like 1968, a 6-2 record in Double-A – this time with the Eastern League’s Elmira Pioneers.

Called up to the big leagues, Lockwood got into six games (with three starts) for Seattle from August 27 through the end of the ‘69 campaign. He was 0-1, the loss a 2-1 defeat from the White Sox. His ERA over the 23 innings was 3.52. He always had a ready answer for people who asked him why he switched to pitching from third base: “Sal Bando.” There was no way Skip was going to displace Bando from third base.

The names changed again, as the 1969 Pilots became the 1970 Milwaukee Brewers. Lockwood began the season appearing in five games for the Portland Beavers and was 4-1 with a 2.65 Pacific Coast League ERA. He joined the Brewers as a spot starter in time to pitch on May 10 at County Stadium against the visiting Washington Senators. He allowed just one earned run in 7⅓ innings and hit his first major-league home run (of the three he hit), but Milwaukee’s win came after he’d departed from the game. In an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves, Lockwood went the distance for a 1-0 win, allowing just three hits and driving in the winning run himself. He really struggled after that, losing his first five decisions and 10 of his first 11. Some were close (he’d been in 12 one-run games by August 19), but were losses nonetheless and Lockwood was 1-10. Manager Dave Bristol stuck with him and he finished stronger, winning four of his last six. The year-end record showed him 5-12 but his 4.30 ERA was only marginally higher than the team ERA of 4.21.

Skip had married Kathleen Murphy in June 1970. That winter he pitched for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican League. Anyone who might think that wintering in Puerto Rico was pure pleasure for young ballplayers of the day should read the details of their “luxurious” apartment with its single light bulb and on-again, off-again water supply in Kathleen Lockwood’s memoir, Major League Bride. Her book was published by McFarland and Company in 2010 and is highly recommended as an informative while thoroughly entertaining look at life in baseball both before and a bit after free agency. Skip did more than pitch. “What I worked on mostly was my mind. I read books on self-belief, on how you can make things happen by believing in yourself. And it worked. I now believe that I can make them happen. It’s simply having a positive attitude.”xvi

Lockwood credited Dave Bristol for helping him overcome his cockiness, and sticking with him as he learned to become coachable. “I think there’s a smidgen of cockiness in everybody,” he told sportswriter Larry Whiteside. “Sometimes when you first come up, that’s the little bit of cockiness that got you here. It’s a praiseworthy thing. … But after you get here, you’ve got to be willing to learn. You’ve got to be humble enough to accept the fact that some of the things you’re doing aren’t right.”xvii

Bristol and Brewers pitching coach Wes Stock worked with Skip, he made the adjustments, and he was pretty much in the major leagues to stay.  His playing weight is listed as 175 pounds and he stood 6-feet-1. Each of the next three seasons (1971-73) was with the Brewers as well. He won ten games (losing 15) in 1971, but with a much-improved 3.33 ERA, shaving off almost a full run off his 1970 stat, over the course of 208 innings. “I thought that was pretty good,” he said of winning ten games, “until I went in to talk about my contract. [Milwaukee GM] Frank Lane said, ‘Come in, Larry,’ and I knew I was in trouble.”xviii

The 1972 season began late due to a work stoppage. Lockwood was player rep for the Brewers at the time, and it was a “very contentious” time. “It was palpable,” he said. “The owners hated us and we hated them.” It was also a precarious situation financially. “I didn’t know what I was going to do to make money. I had a mortgage to pay. My wife did some substitute teaching during the strike. We didn’t have any money.”xix

Del Crandall took over from Bristol as manager after the first 30 games in 1972 and collected his first win as skipper when Lockwood pitched a complete-game one-hitter on May 30 against the visiting New York Yankees. Skip lost his next game, though, and was 2-7 for the young season, almost a replay of 1970. When he was hot he was hot, though, and his first three victories were two shutouts and the 3-1 one-hitter against New York. Skip spoke of focus on the field: “When I’m concentrating, I have command of my pitches. When I don’t, I start overstriding, over-throwing, a lot of things.”xx It was the mistakes, he said, that were killing him. Psychology was a big part of it. “Sometimes I feel like King Kong out there and sometimes like Aunt Alice,” he told AP sports editor Ken Rappoport in 1971. “But however I feel, I have to keep bearing down because I don’t have any tricky stuff.”xxi

Both 1972 and 1973 saw progressively fewer innings and a slight bump in ERA up to 3.60 (8-15) in 1972 and then – working more as a reliever than a starter in ’73, up to 3.90 (5-12 again). Lockwood worked as an insurance agent during the offseason, one of a very few Brewers to live in the city year-round. He was also active with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes. One moment caused a real scare on June 11, when a Jim Holt line drive hit him in the chest with such force that it knocked him to his knees (he managed to throw Holt out first), but the blow tore loose one of the “R” letters from his uniform.xxii In late October 1973, Lockwood was part of a nine-player deal with the California Angels and played the ’74 season for manager Bobby Winkles and then Winkles’ replacement, Dick Williams. It was a 2-5 season, in 81⅓ innings, almost all in relief, and Lockwood had a 4.32 ERA.

After the 1973 campaign, Lockwood was a New York Yankee just as he’d been an Astro several years earlier – traded to New York for Bill Sudakis on December 3, 1974, and with the Yanks until he was released the day before the season began, on April 7, 1975. He signed a Tucson Toros contract a week later and spent a couple of months playing in the Pacific Coast League for the Oakland affiliate (6-2, 4.39), starting in nine of his 30 games. Skip credited his Tucson roommate, Charlie Sands, for giving him encouragement to consider becoming a reliever. He talked with Tucson pitching coach Hank Aguirre and asked for more in the way of relief roles. “I was in the minors after several years in the bigs,” he later told sportswriter Jack Lang. “For years I had been afraid of failing and I finally had failed. What was there to lose?”xxiii

After some success with the Mets, Skip had fully come around to valuing his new role as a reliever: “I like relief work. I beat my head against the wall as a starter. I seem to have more confidence in short relief jobs.”xxiv On July 28, 1975 – after Charlie Finley had essentially given him his choice of three clubs to which he would be willing to sell Skip’s contract – he was dealt to the New York Mets and placed with the Tidewater Tides, the Mets’ Triple-A team.xxv He threw only five innings, winning one game and appearing in two others, without giving up an earned run. On August 5 he pitched his first major-league game for the Mets – actually, his first two; he relieved in both games of a doubleheader, both lost to the Expos by identical 7-0 scores but with only one earned run charged against Lockwood. His first day with the Mets was the last day for manager Yogi Berra. A freak injury to Ken Sanders had opened an opportunity for Skip Lockwood. In 48⅓ innings of work, he recorded a 1.49 earned-run average.

With that spectacular a beginning for his new team, he’d found another place to settle in, and a new role. The relief specialist was beginning to blossom in baseball, recognized as a key component in the modern game, and over the next few years Lockwood became the ace of the Mets bullpen, in what was the biggest media market in the country. There followed four full seasons with the Mets, with another 203 game appearances and a record of 23-33 (won-loss records clearly not meaning nearly as much for relievers). Skip earned career highs with 19 saves in 1976 (second in the league), with 108 strikeouts in 94⅓ innings) – and he earned a good three-year contract. He had 20 saves in 1977, though with less spectacular stats. Lockwood himself cited the “good year/bad year” syndrome, which he said affected most pitchers. “I was really conscious of that and I was determined not to have that happen to me. But it seems the more you try to prevent something from happening it happens.” Manager Joe Torre thought it had more to do with the Lockwoods welcoming their first child, Meghan, to the family in midsummer 1977, and the departure of Tom Seaver from the club; the two had been very close.xxvi

In his five seasons with the Mets, despite being hampered with shoulder problems in 1978 and losing his last eight decisions (there were six saves and one blown save mixed in,, Lockwood’s earned-run average over the five-year stretch was a very good 2.80.

In late May of 1979 Lockwood was 0-5 for the season, and every one of the five losses was by one earned run in a tied game. He’d given up only one run in any of his other 21 appearances and had an ERA under 2.00. Then he won two and had three saves, before he had to leave a game on May 28 with a recurrence of the shoulder woes that had caused him to miss almost all of September the year before. After a week of rest, Lockwood tried again, but a muscle had torn. The injury failed to get better and he was finally placed on the disabled list and never returned in 1979. Fair or not, some of the Mets felt he had quit on them.xxvii

Lockwood was looking forward to testing free agency after the season. He was just 32 years old and coming off a season with a 1.49 ERA, albeit over only 42⅓ innings, but teams now had understandable concerns regarding that shoulder. When his contract with the Mets expired on October 31, he was released the next day, after reportedly as many as ten clubs had asked for the right to talk with him.

Before the month was out, the Boston Red Sox snapped Lockwood up and signed him as a free agent. They’d been after him, sufficiently so that they’d had his shoulder examined the day before that year’s draft. The Lockwoods were living in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the time, but welcomed the signing both for the offer (which reports had as high as $1.2 million for a four-year guaranteed contract) and for a chance to return to Boston. He told sportswriter Murray Chass, “Playing for Boston is going home. It’s a thrill to be able to go home and pitch in front of my parents and my wife’s parents.”xxviii Red Sox GM Haywood Sullivan – who knew Skip, because he had managed Kansas City for most of the 1965 season – admitted it was a gamble from the team’s perspective, “But if you don’t take a chance, you’ll be left by the wayside.”xxix What neither Sullivan nor Lockwood counted on was frustration at the hands of the field manager.

Right from the start, there were problems with manager Don Zimmer. Lockwood was coming off a serious injury, and the first time Zimmer asked him to warm up in the bullpen was on a cold April 12 day, in a game when the Sox were already down 15-1 to the Brewers. When Skip spoke with Zimmer on the bullpen phone and explained that this could be unwise, Zimmer seemed to take it as a challenge to his authority and was heard to use the words “prima donna,” adding, “Don’t expect to see any action in close games.” Skip stuck with the Sox all season long, with a sore arm off and on, and a cracked rib, and was used sparingly (24 appearances and 45⅔ innings), with an earned-run average which he couldn’t bring under 5.00 from the end of May on. He finished at 5.32, with a 3-1 record and two saves, and felt “humiliated” that he’d been used so little in August and September.xxx Zimmer was let go at the end of the season. Lockwood may have been guilty of violating an oft-repeated premise of baseball in that era: “Don’t think. You’ll hurt the team.” The phrase turns up in Kathleen Lockwood’s book, and one suspects it was heard in one variation or another throughout Skip’s career.

Lockwood felt the problems he’d had might have come from relinquishing his glasses and therefore squinting, creating extra tension in his face, neck, and shoulders.xxxi He wanted the opportunity to come back and prove himself and came to spring training in very good shape, throwing (in the eyes of sportswriter Peter Gammons) much better than at any time in 1980, but incoming manager Ralph Houk seemed to have his attention on younger players and paid little attention to what progress Skip had been showing in his pitching. Skip was unexpectedly released by the Red Sox in early April.

He accepted a position with the Denver Bears, an Expos farm club, but even at Triple-A, he didn’t succeed, going 2-5, 5.10, and saw his playing career effectively end as the major-league strike of 1981 interrupted the season and the Expos moved to dump salary commitments. That August he turned 35.

Lockwood had never stopped trying to further his education. Throughout his career he was always looking for an edge and had an ongoing interest in what today would be called sports psychology. He had enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Columbia University, in an ed. program called Psycho-Social Studies of Human Movement. He studied a bit of hypnosis in grad school, and psychotherapy. In June 1979 he told Mike Marley of the New York Post, “I’d downplay the hypnosis. But it’s part of the routine. It helps you be comfortable while being successful, Hypnosis reduces a barrier.”xxxii

After baseball Lockwood entered a partnership at the Chestnut Hill Medical Center in Greater Boston with Dr. Harvey Dulberg, director of sports psychology. The idea was a good one, with Dulberg bringing his expertise in dealing with emotional problems and Lockwood able to draw on his 16 years of involvement in professional sports. Dulberg had reached out to Lockwood after reading that the former athlete was working toward a degree in sports psychology. They were perhaps ahead of their time, and not very many professional athletes sought their services.

Skip and Kathy Lockwood had five children to raise – four daughters and a son. Skip earned a second master’s degree, at MIT’s Sloan School, taking a program in finance and economics.

He began a Ph.D. program, but it’s “latent,” he said. Aware of former pitcher Bob Tewksbury’s work with the Red Sox as a sports psychologist, he said in 2012, “I envy him. I wish I had completed my program and had the license. I think it’s important for the players to have someone to talk to.”xxxiii

Asked for a final thought, Skip said, “The educational process is ongoing. I don’t know if I want to get another degree, but I think that becoming involved with a school or in a learning environment would be good for me. The University of New Hampshire has something in kinesiology. I’m going to go talk to them and maybe do something in sports physiology. There are a couple of other programs I’m going to look into. You never stop learning.”xxxiv

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Lockwood’s player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i In the author’s interview with Skip Lockwood on July 27, 2012, he said he understood his mother’s background was French and English, and his father’s was English and Dutch. When he had completed his player questionnaire for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, however, Lockwood listed his background as “Italy - French.”

ii High-school statistics come from summary records in Lockwood’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

iii Skip Lockwood interview with author, July 27, 2012.

iv Ibid.

v Ibid.

vi Lockwood interview with David Laurila, Baseball Prospectus.com, posted October 13, 2010.

vii Lockwood interview with author, July 27, 2012.

viii Lockwood interview with David Laurila, Baseball Prospectus.com, posted October 13, 2010.

ix Bob Cordasco, unattributed June 29, 1976, clipping in Lockwood’s player file at the Hall of Fame.

x Ibid.

xi New York Daily News, May 11, 1976.

xii Undated press release from the American League office circa 1971.

xiii Lockwood interview with author, July 27, 2012.

xiv The Sporting News, December 15, 1967.

xv Ibid.

xvi Undated American League press release in Lockwood’s Hall of Fame player file.

xvii The Sporting News, July 24, 1971.

xviii New York Times, August 9, 1975.

xix Lockwood interview with author, July 27, 2012.

xx The Sporting News, July 8, 1972

xxi Undated clipping in Lockwood’s Hall of Fame player file.

xxii The Sporting News, June 30, 1973.

xxiii Unattributed clipping dated May 22, 1976, in Lockwood’s player file at the Hall of Fame.

xxiv Unattributed clipping ca. early August 1975 in Lockwood’s player file at the Hall of Fame.

xxv Kathleen Lockwood. Major League Bride (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2010), 114, 115. 

xxvi New York Mets Scorebook, 1978.

xxvii The Sporting News, July 19, 1980.

xxviii New York Times, November 24, 1978.

xxix Boston Herald, December 15, 1978.

xxx The Sporting News, October 4, 1980.

xxxi The Sporting News, January 31, 1981.

xxxii New York Post, June 8, 1979.

xxxiii Lockwood interview with author, July 27, 2012.

xxxiv Lockwood interview with author, August 8, 2012.

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