Bob Locker proved what hard work and perseverance can do. Locker parlayed his experience on the Iowa State baseball team into a long and prosperous career in the Major Leagues, where he was a dependable pitcher for 10 seasons.
A native of George, Iowa, Locker had numerous scholarship offers after an outstanding baseball and basketball prep career. With his mother’s guidance, who was an ISU graduate, Locker decided to pitch for the Cyclones under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Cap Timm. He sat out his freshman season under NCAA guidelines and watched the Cyclones advance to their first-ever College World Series, finishing third in the national tournament.
In Locker’s senior season (1960), the Cyclones fielded one of the best teams in the Midwest, finishing second in the Big Eight Conference with a 12-6 league record. ISU had a chance to advance to postseason play in the final weekend of the season. Playing host to national power Oklahoma State in a twinbill, the Cyclones needed a sweep to keep their season alive.
ISU won 4-0 in the first game to keep the heat on the Cowboys. Locker got the call in the deciding game, going seven innings and allowing just two earned runs. The Cyclones were on the verge of victory, loading the bases with no outs in the bottom half of the first extra inning. However, a freak double-play ended the Cyclones’ chances, as ISU fell in extra innings after Locker was taken out of the game.
The hurler had his best season in his senior campaign, going 3-2 with a 3.50 ERA and leading the squad in strikeouts with 41. Locker, who earned all-Big Eight recognition, had an outstanding fastball, but increased his productivity by developing a devastating sinker. His improvement helped him get a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox, signing with the club after graduating with a geology degree in 1960.
Locker played two years in the minors (1960-61) before taking two years off for military service. He came back and played one more year in the White Sox farm system in 1964, winning 16 games for Indianapolis. At the age of 27, he got the call every player dreams of, joining the White Sox opening-day roster in 1965. Locker was reunited with former Cyclone teammate and ISU Hall of Famer Jerry McNertney, who was enjoying a solid professional career of his own. McNertney, a catcher, was his battery mate for three years with the Sox.
Locker saw action as a middle reliever in his first two seasons and had his most productive professional season in 1967. He found a niche with his sinker and developed into one of baseball’s best middle-to-late-inning relievers. He led the American League in appearances (77), saved 20 games and had a 2.09 ERA.
Locker had another solid year in 1968, saving 10 games with a 2.29 ERA. He played one more season with the Sox before getting traded, along with McNertney, to the Seattle Pilots in their only season of existence. When the Pilots moved to Milwaukee, Locker was traded to Oakland in 1970. The reliever joined an up-and-coming group of All-Stars with the A’s, as the franchise was at the beginning of its amazing dynasty in the early 1970s. Locker went 7-2 and had a 2.86 ERA in 1971. He was a catalyst out of the bullpen in Oakland’s first of three-straight World Series titles in 1972. He posted a 2.65 ERA, went 6-1 and tallied 10 saves in the 1972 championship season, the only Cyclone ever to appear in a World Series game.
Locker finished out his Major League career with the Chicago Cubs in 1973 and 1975. Through 10 Major League seasons, Locker recorded an impressive 2.75 career ERA, tallied 95 saves and posted a 57-39 overall mark. He appeared in 576 games and logged 879 innings pitched, all in relief. When he retired in 1975, his 95 career saves ranked 27th all-time. He currently is tied for 125th on the all-time Major League career save list.
After his professional career ended, Locker and his wife, Judy, also an Iowa State graduate, moved to California with their four children. He founded Specific Properties, a successful real estate business he still owns and operates today.