Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke did not fix baseball games – so says an investigative unit from Major League Baseball, so says the small-time sports bookie who once claimed Locke had fixed games.
A year-old investigation by MLB was made public this week, as Sports Illustrated published a fascinating story by Lance Williams and Brian Tuohy of the Center for Investigative Reporting about false claims that Locke had fixed games in 2012. Those claims came from Kris Barr, an elementary-school friend of Locke's who now admits he felt disrespected when Locke didn't respond to his Facebook messages. So Barr, a bookie, started telling people Locke was fixing games.
At first, according to the Sports Illustrated story, Barr was just rooting against Locke. Then he started actively lying to gamblers, saying Locke was fixing games. The claims from a scorned old friend caught the attention of MLB investigators, though, who aggressively pursued Barr. They eventually cleared Locke, but the 26-year-old pitcher didn't even know about the case until last season, at the same meeting MLB officials told him he was cleared.
The SI story brought the whole thing back up again for Locke, who told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“All I know is that I was 100 percent cooperative with MLB,” Mr. Locke said at Comerica Park in Detroit before the Pirates played the Tigers. “They checked me out, 100 percent cleared, as far as I know.”
The Pirates backed Mr. Locke.
“MLB conducted a thorough investigation of the claims against Jeff Locke and concluded that Jeff had zero involvement and that he had done nothing wrong,” general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement Wednesday. “MLB long ago determined these claims were bogus and that this is a non-story.”
It's not exactly a non-story now. From the Black Sox to Pete Rose, there's a history of gambling in baseball that makes stories like this one more important. Furthermore, the Sports Illustrated piece spends many paragraphs unraveling the tale before making the point 100 percent clear that Locke was cleared of any wrongdoing. That's worth repeating.
In a larger view, the story also shows us to what lengths MLB investigators will go to snuff out rule-breakers. Rick Burnham, a former New York City police detective and senior investigator for MLB, led the inquiry into the Locke/Barr mess. In order to bring Barr in for questioning, the Maricopa County sheriff's office in Arizona aggressively and deceptively pursued Barr, convincing him to meet under a false pretense, then detaining him until Burnham showed up for an interrogation.
From Sports Illustrated:
According to Savannah Barr [Kris' sister], an officer with a drawn gun leaned into the car and declared, “Whoever is driving this car is going to jail!” Frightened and in tears, she got out of the car.
The officer was looking for Kris Barr: Kris had been in “a hit-and-run in New Mexico,” he said, and the other driver was in critical condition. Where was Kris?
Don Barr [Kris' brother] had turned on his cellphone to record the traffic stop. He too was told to get out of his car. He says he could hear officers yelling at his sister, threatening to put her in jail and take her kids away if she didn’t disclose Kris Barr’s whereabouts. Don called out to her, saying she didn’t have to say anything. For that, he says, he was handcuffed.
Kris Barr did meet with MLB investigators, a couple of times, in fact. Burnham, MLB's lead detective, was convinced Barr had made the whole thing up after he couldn't find any evidence to prove that Barr and Locke had been in touch. Eventually, Burnham wanted Barr to take a lie-detector test before closing the case. Barr wanted $10,000 if he passed. Burnham said no. That was the end.
It's a weirdly fascinating story to the layperson. One that will make you realize just how far a bogus game-fixing allegation involving a pro athlete can go. Although, if you're Locke, tangled up in this because you didn't return a Facebook message from an old childhood friend, it sounds like a giant headache.
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