Obituary: Lockman's roots began on historic note

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Gordon Edes
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MESA, Ariz. – When Gary Hughes walked into the intensive care unit and saw Whitey Lockman bathed in ice, doctors desperately trying to reduce his 104-degree fever, he knew that time was short.

He leaned over the bed and whispered, "Pat Daugherty said you've got to be in Starkville, Miss., tomorrow."

The oxygen mask could not conceal Lockman's smile at this private joke between old baseball men, men who had spent large chunks of their lives going to places like Starkville and Abilene, San Mateo and Sumter, Huntsville and Walla Walla in a never-ending search for the next generation of big-league ballplayers.

It had become a running joke for Whitey and Gary and Pat and Bill Stoneman, back when they all worked for the Montreal Expos, the kind of story that got passed around the dinner table when the old friends got together here in the desert just three weeks ago.

Mississippi State was loaded with talent one year, with Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen, future major leaguers all, and the Expos kept asking Lockman to make one more scouting trip into Starkville.

"Finally, Whitey said, 'That's it, I'm not going back to Starkville,' " Hughes said.

The dinner had gone on for three hours, the stories flying back and forth, but it felt, Hughes said, like it was over in a minute.

Carroll "Whitey" Lockman could draw on more than 60 years' worth of tales, from the time he broke into the big leagues as an 18-year-old with the New York Giants in 1945 and hit a home run in his first at-bat.

In 1951, he played a central role in one of the most memorable ballgames ever played, the playoff between the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers decided by Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World." Lockman batted just before Thomson and hit an opposite-field double that knocked out starting pitcher Don Newcombe. Willie Mays, a rookie then, was waiting on deck when Thomson homered off Dodgers reliever Ralph Branca.

Lockman reminisced about the game at dinner that night, talked about how Thomson had taken a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch. "The next pitch, Whitey said, was high and inside," Hughes said, "but Thomson somehow clubbed it out."

Hughes teased Lockman at dinner, told him how he'd been reading the book by the Wall Street Journal reporter, Joshua Harris Prager, who had gotten some former Giants to confess to an elaborate system of stealing signs.

The Giants' manager, Leo Durocher, had installed reserve infielder Hank Schenz, equipped with a telescope, at a window in the Giants' clubhouse, which stood beyond the center-field fence. Schenz would steal the catcher's signs, then through a buzzer system installed by the Polo Grounds electrician, he would relay what pitches were coming to Sal Yvars, the reserve catcher in the bullpen. If Yvars tossed a baseball in the air, a curveball. If he didn't, a fastball was coming.

"I still couldn't get Whitey to admit there was any sign-stealing," Hughes said. "He came close to admitting. I told him I was reading the book, and I said, 'I'm going to have questions for you.' He said, 'That's all right; I'll answer any,' but he didn't.

"He said, 'He hit the home run, didn't he?' "

In one of baseball's little twists, the unassuming Lockman would replace the volatile Durocher as manager of the Chicago Cubs in the middle of the 1972 season. Two undistinguished years later, he too would be fired, but not before being part of another piece of history. On May 8, 1973, Lockman was ejected from a game against the San Diego Padres; for the last few innings, the team was run by coach Ernie Banks, the first time an African-American had served as manager, even for part of one game. Two years later, the Cleveland Indians broke that barrier for good when they hired Frank Robinson as manager.

Lockman spent the next quarter-century in player development, first with the Cubs, then with the Expos, where he became a special advisor and mentor to GM David Dombrowski, a role he continued when Dombrowski moved on to the Florida Marlins. He retired in 2001, the 50th anniversary of the Thomson home run, but delighted in hearing from old friends, like Hughes, who is a special adviser to Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry.

Lockman was fine at dinner, Hughes said, calling twice afterward to thank him for the reunion. But on Tuesday, Hughes was at Scottsdale Stadium before a game when he got a call from Lockman's wife, who was weeping. Whitey isn't going to make it, she said.

Hughes left the ballpark and drove to the hospital. That night, Lockman died of pulmonary complications. He was 82.

Before Wednesday's exhibition here between the Cubs and Giants, the two teams that had played such a big role in Lockman's life, a moment of silence was observed in his memory.

"What a gentleman," Hughes said. "He was just such an example of how you should live your life.

"I've had a lot of big, tough men crying on the phone today."