Jeff Locke was placed in a terribly awkward and, presumably, incredibly frustrating position today by a Sports Illustrated piece that identifies him as an unknowing participant in a not-very-interesting gambling hoax concocted by a jaded ex-grade school teammate. Unfortunately, the piece focuses on the hoax, and not the more interesting issue of Major League Baseball's investigation tactics, thus placing Locke in an extremely uncomfortable position.
Nothing is more taboo for professional baseball player than to be connected in any way to fixing games. By focusing on the hoax, the article inevitably casts some unneeded suspicion on Locke's character. (A full investigation was conducted and Locke was fully cleared by Major League Baseball of any connection whatsoever with actions of Kris Barr, the man behind the hoax.)
Before today's game Locke met with reporters and spoke in exactly the way you would think -- he tried to downplay the story while also displaying the frustration that comes with being compelled to make clear one's innocence.
"I did read it, as gut-wrenching as it is," Locke said. "The only truth to it is the fact that the last time we spoke was elementary school. And, that his family won cash for life or something. But that's why we realized why we never saw them after that."
Locke said he had no idea on than why Barr picked him to exploit as part of his hoax, other than it was likely the product of a culture of envy that tends to surround successful athletes.
"To be honest with you, if I could sum it up for you guys as simple as I can: I think I come from a small, very envious town. That's all. A lot of jealousy. No different from where a lot of these other guys come from. From other countries where other people aren't as wealthy as you."
Obviously, the story also creates a potentially uncomfortable situation with his teammates. Locke said he hasn't had a chance to talk to them yet.
"I'll talk to them individually. These guys know me, I know them, everybody knows that I have nothing to hide in my life."
As for what should have been the subject matter of the article, Major League Baseball's investigative tactics are eye-opening. Take this vignette of MLB's senior investigator, Rick Burnham's role in Kris Barr's interrogation by New York City detectives.
Half an hour later the man Barr would come to call "MLB Rick" - Burnham - arrived in an SUV with two New York City detectives. Somebody told Barr to get in the car. As soon as the door closed, the investigators asked about Jeff Locke. "I started laughing," Barr says. "But it wasn't anything funny for the next hour."
We have proof you fixed baseball games, Barr remembers the investigators telling him before adding that they were going to convict him on a "ton of charges" and send him to prison for years. When Barr denied fixing games, he says Burnham "went crazy on me ... cussing at me, telling me I needed to cooperate - he called me a liar so many times in that car." Burnham is a muscular, grim-faced man, a former U.S. Marine sergeant. His booming voice filled the SUV.
There is more, and it's worth reading.
For his part, Locke looks forward to moving beyond a matter that he thought he was already done dealing with.
"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."