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October 13, 2010

BP Unfiltered

Skip Lockwood: A Remarkable Unremarkable Career

by David Laurila

By most measures, Skip Lockwood had a rather unremarkable career. A big-league pitcher for 12 seasons [1969-1980], Lockwood compiled a record of 57-97, with a 3.55 ERA, and even his best year -- 10-7 with 19 saves for the 1976 Mets -- falls short of notable. The period from 1964-1970, however, was anything but unremarkable.

Lockwood, who has an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School, and is currently working on his PHD, shared a few memories from that transitory, and often tumultuous, part of his baseball life.

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On signing his first professional contract, in 1964: “This was before the draft started. Charley Finley, and six other teams, had watched me play in high school, and I was going to sign a contract. I was 18 years old, and this was in Norwood, Massachusetts. My dad and mom were there, and Pat Friday, who was the general manager for the Kansas City A’s, 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.’ He said, ‘OK, I’ll pay you $35,000, too; the A’s want you to sign.’ My father was there at the table and he said, ‘Skip, this is your decision if you want to sign.’

“Pat Friday handed me a pen. I took his pen, opened it, and I put a one in front of the $35,000; I made it $135,000 and that’s what I signed for. It was the largest bonus on record to date, and it kept me around, in the league, probably more than I deserved to be.”

On being a bonus baby: “I spent a year in Kansas City with the team because they had that bonus-protection rule where you had to keep the kids you wanted, otherwise you’d lose them in the draft. So I got a chance to play. I wasn’t a pitcher yet, though. I actually signed to play third base, but as it turned out, I wasn’t a very good hitter. I was a good high-school hitter, but not in the pros. Ed Charles played third base for that ball club, and I did too.

“At the time, they were trying to discourage bonuses, so they made a rule that if you were going to give somebody a bonus, they’d go into a draft if you don’t keep them on the major-league roster. Finley signed 30 or 40 players like that. There was Catfish Hunter, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan, Sal Bando…he signed all of us. He had to keep a bunch of us in the majors that one year [1965]. I was Catfish’s roommate.”

On sharing the field with a pair of legends: “Satchel Paige was brought up that season. He was 59 years old and I had my 19th birthday, and we were on the field together; I was the youngest player [on the team] and he was the oldest player in history. I didn’t have the good sense to get a ball signed, or anything. And he actually pitched three shutout innings against the Red Sox that day, against Bill Monbouquette.

“That spring training, there was a guy running in the outfield with the players, back and forth. We were doing our laps -- this was the spring of 1965 -- and I didn’t know who the guy was. He was talking about racing, and about running, and it turns out that it was Jesse Owens. So, I learned about running from Jesse Owens.”

On pitching and the Pilots: “I went into the service for a year, came out, and then became a pitcher. I was brought up with Seattle [in 1969] when Seattle had [the Pilots] and then the whole team went from Seattle to Milwaukee [in 1970]. It was funny, because we didn’t know; we all thought that we were going to Seattle to play. The bus with all the equipment, and all the luggage, went to Seattle, but the team got sold and we headed for Milwaukee. We had no clothes, we had no bats or baseballs. Everything was on its way to Seattle. What they did is take the Seattle Pilots uniforms and took the lettering…they took the name off and put “BREWERS” across the front. I still have one of those old uniforms, my old uniform from all those years ago.”

On Bouton and Baldwin: “Seattle in 1969, that was the Jim Bouton book. And it was more than interesting characters; these were goofy guys. I enjoyed that team. I was still very young and trying to make my way as a pitcher. I remember in spring training, I had been converted from the infield to pitching and Bouton and I were doing our laps in the outfield. I said, ‘Jim, I don’t think I’m going to make the ball club, because they’re still calling me Paul. They didn’t even know my name.’ That was many, many years ago.

Dave Baldwin was my roommate [with Seattle]. I just read his book; it’s called “Snake Jazz“ and it’s very interesting. Dave got a PHD, and he was crushing fruit flies and looking at their DNA, and their chromosomes, when we were roommates. I told him, ‘I’ve still got bugs in my luggage, man.’”

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