Looking back at Lock

I was perusing a sports memorabilia auction catalog this morning and was surprised to see Don Lock’s 1967 Phillies jersey among the items up for bid. If you’re a child of the 1970s, chances are that Lock’s name doesn’t mean anything to you. Those of us who lived and died with the expansion Senators, however, pause with some degree of reverence.

Lock was a slugging outfielder from Wichita, Kan., who signed with the Yankees out of Wichita State in 1958. He made his way through the New York farm system, showing a propensity for hitting the longball and frequently striking out. He hit 29 or more homers each minor league season 1959-61, but as a center fielder primarily, his path to the Bronx was blocked by a gentleman named Mantle.

After a strong start at Triple-A Richmond in 1962, the Yankees traded Lock to the second-year Senators for veteran first baseman/pinch hitter Dale Long on July 11. (I thought it was cool at the time that they’d traded two players with the same initials.) Long had been drafted from the Yankees in the December 1960 expansion draft, and they wanted him back for his bat off the bench. Lock made his debut on July 17 against the White Sox in Chicago. He struck out his first two times up, but homered leading off the seventh. Final score that day: Washington 1, Chicago 0, as Dave Stenhouse pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout. Lock ended up with 12 major league homers that year - he’d hit 13 in Triple-A ball - and an OPS of .794.

Over the next four seasons, Lock was the everyday center fielder for Washington. For every 162 games he spent in a Senators uniform he hit 25 home runs and drove in 71, with a .240 batting average. Not great, but on a chronic second division club like the expansion Senators, extremely notable.

Following the 1966 season, the Senators sent Lock to the Phillies for lefty reliever Darold Knowles, a trade that worked out quite well for Washington. Lock’s production diminished in the National League, and his career ended after 53 games with the Red Sox in 1969.

Lock’s been back to the D.C. area a few times since his playing days ended, including last fall when he appeared at a collectibles show in Chantilly, Va. I’ve known him well for years, and he’s one of those ex-players who still relishes every second he spent playing the game. He’s always surprised at the number of fans who remember him as being a better player than he remembers himself being.

I own a Lock uniform, but it’s one he was issued for spring training with the 1961-62 Yankees. He signed the tail of it “On roster, never played” above his name. I’d trade it in a heartbeat for one of his Washington shirts.

To say Lock was born too soon would be an understatement. Lock never made as much as $30,000 a season in the big leagues. What do you think his Washington numbers today would bring on the open market?

By the way, bidding on Lock’s Phillies shirt ends tomorrow. As of 1 p.m. today, the top bid was $1,060. It may be the perfect holiday gift.