Jeff Locke is supposed to be spending his August worrying about how his pitching can help the Pittsburgh Pirates make a run to the National League playoffs.
Instead, a story about a hoax involving a childhood friend has thrown him into the middle of a controversy over fixed games, even as Major League Baseball has already confirmed that he has done nothing wrong.
A story that appeared in the August 18 issue of Sports Illustrated, produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting, tells the tale of an unusual hoax perpetrated by a man named Kris Barr, a sports handicapper who was friends with Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke as a child.
Both men grew up in Conway, New Hampshire, playing youth baseball together until Barr’s family moved away when he was in sixth grade.
Locke would go on to become perhaps the best high school pitcher in the state, get drafted by the Atlanta Braves, and eventually reach the major leagues.
Meanwhile, Barr found himself in the business of sports handicapping, and now sells tips to gamblers on his website, VIPSportsInvestment.com.
Social Media Snub Leads to Resentment
It’ll be nice when all of this passes and everybody realizes that it was just a big stink.
According to Barr, he and his brother tried to reconnect with Locke after he was traded to the Pirates during his minor league days, but Locke showed little interest in reconnecting. That slight led to Barr holding a grudge. That included rooting against his former friend at every opportunity, and eventually telling his clients to bet against him in virtually all of his starts.
But something unusual happened: Barr’s picks were startlingly accurate when Locke pitched. He would pick Locke to lose and give up several runs, and his former friend did just that. At the end of the season, he picked Locke to get his first career win against the Braves, the team that originally drafted him. Sure enough, Locke won a 2-1 decision.
That led to Barr telling what he now says were innocent jokes about how he was working with Locke to fix his starts. At first, his tales got laughs, but as the predictions mounted, people started asking questions.
Story is Potential Distraction in Playoff Race
The SI story goes into the harrowing tale of the investigation into Barr, how Locke first found out about the claims, and how investigators eventually cleared Locke and Barr of any actual game-fixing allegations. But the release of the article brought the story to Locke’s attention yet again, this time in the middle of a heated pennant race.
Locke attributes Barr’s actions to small town jealousy, and says he can’t wait until the story blows over.
“It went away…and, now that it’s all public, it’s back,” Locke said. “And that’s the frustrating part. I have a job to do in two or three days, we have a job to do tonight, we don’t want to distract anything away. It’ll be nice when all of this passes and everybody realizes that it was just a big stink.”
Jeff Locke is currently in his fourth Major League Baseball season, and his second as a full time starter for the Pirates. In the 2013 season, Locke went 10-7 with a 3.52 ERA, earning a place on the National League All-Star Team.