During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bob Locker emerged as one of the game’s most reliable and durable relief pitchers. The sinkerballing right hander became the relief ace for the Chicago White Sox, saving a career-high 20 games in 1967, before serving as one of Rollie Fingers’ primary set-up men on the 1972 World Champion Oakland A’s. Locker finished his 10-year career with a 2.75 ERA in 879 innings of relief.
Regarded as one of the more intelligent and well-read players of his era, Locker recently created a web site supporting Marvin Miller’s induction to the Hall of Fame. The site, http://thanksmarvin.com, features testimonials from a number of former major leaguers, including Jim Kaat, Sam McDowell and Frank White.
In a recent interview with The Hardball Times, Locker provided insights into Miller’s groundbreaking work as head of the players union, along with thoughts on his own career with the White Sox, A’s, Seattle Pilots, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs.
Markusen: Bob, explain the timing for the decision to put together this web site supporting Marvin Miller’s Hall of Fame induction. What motivated you to do this now?
Locker: I was made aware of a tribute dinner for Marvin by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association a couple of months ago. When the dinner was cancelled I started researching the situation, and found all of these articles about how he was being snubbed by the Hall of Fame. The more I read, the more ashamed I was of our (the players’) failure to do anything to support his rightful place as probably the most influential person in the history of baseball, certainly from the players’ perspective.
Markusen: What were you first impressions of Miller when he took over the Players Association in the mid-1960s?
Locker: He was one of most soft spoken, yet insightful people I had ever met and was willing to sacrifice his position with the Steelworkers to take on a difficult task for the players, because he believed it was an unjust situation, to say the least.
Markusen: Was he someone who had an interest in baseball, or did he come at things strictly from the perspective of someone who had worked with the Steelworkers Union?
Locker: He loved the game and was an avid tennis player in his own right. I think his competitive nature was a large part of why he took on such a difficult task Essentially Marvin Miller has the same qualities that helped the Hall of Fame players maximize their potential. He was just was a little smaller, less gifted physically… and a whole lot more intelligent!
Markusen: What specific kinds of things did Marvin do to mobilize the players and make them aware that changes in their relationship with management had to occur?
Locker: When he was elected to lead our association few players really knew what to expect…but a number of us understood how one-sided our situation was. After working hard to reach the major leagues (the top of our profession) we found that we had no say in our salaries or other terms of employment. As owners, they probably knew it was not fair, but throughout the history of baseball, they had never been challenged… to be fair.
Markusen: Did Marvin talk directly to the players about the Curt Flood case and why he was supporting Flood’s efforts in suing Major League Baseball?
Locker: I don’t remember the details
Markusen: Was Miller hesitant in having the players go out on strike for the first time in 1972? Did he caution you that it could be a long strike?
Locker: You must understand that most players wanted to “bend over backwards” for the ownership, since they were our employers and we appreciated a chance to play a sport and earn a living. We had no idea how one-sided the situation really was, until Marvin Miller brought his experience to our association and delivered some startling facts about our “servitude.” He warned all of us, that unless we were totally united, we would fail. He is perhaps the only person, who could have united us to take on that challenge. All of professional sports were dramatically changed by what Marvin accomplished in baseball.
Markusen: What is Miller’s most lasting legacy: free agency, his support of Flood, the Messersmith-McNally case or something else?
Locker: His legacy is all-encompassing. Free agency was only the best tool he had (to cause players to be paid according to their value). You must remember that players don’t set the salaries… owners do. If we were not allowed to test our value to other franchises, we would have remained underpaid captives. Although I personally wish there were a way to have players be loyal to the team that signed them originally, Marvin found (that) the best possible way of providing a system for owners to have the ability to improve their teams and yet create a way that players would be paid more closely aligned to their value to that franchise and ownership…. was conditioned free agency.
Markusen: Do you think today’s players have a true appreciation for what Marvin Miller did?
Locker: In a word… NO. It is appalling that most player of the last 20 years have no idea why they have the salaries and benefits they do… much less any idea of who Marvin Miller really is. That is one of the main reasons we created the web site… so eventually today’s player would become aware of Marvin and why they are so rich. By reading the comments of older players who understand what he has meant to baseball, including many who did not benefit… I believe eventually today’s players and indeed athletes of all professional sports… will finally realize who affected their lives and prosperity more than (any) one person or event.
Markusen: Bob, let’s talk about your association with Charlie Finley. We know that Finley didn’t care for Bowie Kuhn (and vice versa). What did Finley think of Miller?
Locker: Charlie Finley was far and away the most creative, insightful and dynamic owner baseball has seen. Only Bill Veeck comes close. I think Charlie Finley respected Marvin and visa versa.
Markusen: All in all, was playing for Finley a favorable proposition, or was it difficult?
Locker: Favorable… absolutely. Although he paid as little as possible, he created a team of players and talent that led to one of the most successful teams in baseball history…. the A’s of the early and mid ’70s.
Locker: Loaded question. Some of the other players, like Dick Green, Dave Duncan, Joe Rudi, and yes, Sal Bando, and the ultimate professional, Catfish Hunter were the real catalyst. The larger egos played a role… particularly Reggie, but really helped divert attention while the others were the nucleus and the main reason for the success of the A’s
Markusen: Of all your managers with the White Sox, A’s and Cubs, who was the man who had the strongest influence on you?
Locker: Another loaded question. Al Lopez was the best handler of pitchers, Dick Williams was the best strategist, and many were simply good friends of someone in the inner circle. Managers tended to recycle from team to team. By far the most complete person and biggest influence on me was my college coach (at Iowa State), Cap Timm. In my opinion he would have been an extremely successful major league manager, but it wasn’t even considered to look to the college ranks.
Markusen: Do you keep in touch with any of your ex-teammates? Who are you still particularly close to?
Locker: I did not stay involved in baseball after my last year (1975) so have not stayed close to many. As in life, there are a few individuals who stand out, not because of their success, but because of their similar interests and values. People like Jerry McNertney (former White Sox), Bill Bonham (former Cub), Steve Hovley (former Athletic and Pilot) come to mind. I still have the highest respect for many of my other teammates but we just took different paths.
Markusen: A final question for Bob Locker. Aside from your involvement with the Marvin Miller effort, what are you doing, both professionally and personally, these days?
Locker: I found a career in real estate to be rewarding and successful. I am trying to phase into retirement and have am working on a number of inventions… and have written three books. If the economy will let me, I would like to spend some time getting these patented… or published.
Know any publishers or literary agents? These are not however, baseball books.
Markusen: Thanks, Bob, for your time and willingness to talk to us. For more on Marvin Miller and his contributions to the game, visit the web site: http://thanksmarvin.com.