DETROIT — A childhood friend of Jeff Locke’s used his old connection to the Pirates pitcher to create the illusion of a game-fixing scheme that attracted the attention of Major League Baseball last year, according to a Sports Illustrated report published Wednesday.
Kris Barr, a small-time sports handicapper who grew up with Mr. Locke in North Conway, N.H., picked against Mr. Locke and falsely told clients that Mr. Locke would throw games in 2011 and 2012. The predictions coincided with poor performances from Mr. Locke, an inexperienced starter at the time, and gave the hoax some legitimacy.
MLB cleared Mr. Locke of any wrongdoing, according to Mr. Locke and the Pirates. On Wednesday, the pitcher said Mr. Barr’s entire plot took place without his knowledge.
“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.”
Mr. Barr, now 27, told Sports Illustrated that he and Mr. Locke, 26, were friends in elementary school. Mr. Barr’s family won a “Cash for Life” lottery of $1,000 a week and moved to Arizona.
“I did read it, as gut-wrenching as it is,” Mr. Locke said of the story. “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. That’s why we realized we never saw him again after that.”
Shortly before Mr. Locke reached the major leagues, Sports Illustrated reported, Mr. Barr and his brother attempted to contact him via Facebook. Incensed when Mr. Locke rebuffed their messages, Mr. Barr started picking against Mr. Locke.
That was a sound strategy in 2011-12, when Mr. Locke compiled a 5.82 ERA in his first 12 major league games, allowing 57 hits and nine home runs in 51 innings. Eventually, according to the story, Mr. Barr told clients he and Mr. Locke had conspired to throw a particular game.
MLB began investigating Mr. Barr in early 2013, Sports Illustrated reported. Mr. Locke said the league investigated him prior to the time he learned of Mr. Barr’s actions, but the revelations did not affect him because he knew he was innocent.
“I went out and made the All-Star team,” he said. “It wasn’t that hard to focus.”
According to the story, the investigation involved MLB and the New York Police Department as well as the help of local law enforcement in Arizona to find Mr. Barr. Mr. Barr’s family told Sports Illustrated that the law enforcement officials as well as MLB investigators threatened him and his family with jail time. No charges were filed against Mr. Barr.
In investigating and clearing Mr. Locke, investigators reviewed game film and spoke to connections in Las Vegas, and according to the story found no evidence of communication between Mr. Locke and Mr. Barr or any unusual betting activity that would corroborate a fix. Mr. Locke said he wasn’t sure why he became the subject of such a plan.
“I think I come from a small, extremely envious town,” he said. “That’s all. A lot of jealousy, no different than where these other guys come from or if they’re from other countries where people aren’t as wealthy as you are.”
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 13, 2014 12:00 AM