In one of the oddest stories you’ll ever see, a man named Kris Barr – who called himself James Hunter – concocted an elaborate, untrue game-fixing scandal involving (well, not really) Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke.
Yeah, buckle in for this one.
“Well, when we got into it, Brian Tuohy, my parter, brought in the text messages in which a gambler whose name we couldn’t determine was claiming to be fixing Major League Baseball games . . . with . . . Jeff Locke,” Center for Investigative Research senior investigative reporter Lance Williams said on Ferrall on the Bench. “In the text, he said Jeff was his best friend. We dug into it enough to see that there was some kind of relationship between the mystery gambler and (Locke). They share the same tiny hometown, and then we were off trying to figure out what in the world was going on. I couldn’t have predicted it. It was many a night when I woke up out of a sound sleep thinking ‘I’m never going to figure this out.’”
“But we did finally learn that this was an elaborate hoax concocted to avenge a social-media insult,” Williams continued. “The gambler was a boyhood friend of (Locke). When he tried to connect with (Locke) as an adult, (Locke) blew him off and (Barr) got mad and concocted this plot. But it looked real to MLB (and) to the baseball investigative bureau.”
MLB contacted the New York Police Department and “the toughest sheriff in America,” Joe Arpaio of Phoenix, Ariz.
“Baseball wanted to interview (Barr) and rather than calling him up or something, they had Sheriff Arpaio surveil him in his little town in Arizona,” Williams explained. “And ultimately when the surveillance lost him, they wound up apprehending his entire family on a traffic stop on a desert road and – through a pretext saying that they suspected (Barr) of killing somebody in his car – got him to come out there and then held him for MLB, who came out and interviewed him.”
Locke apparently knew nothing of the investigation as it was happening – perhaps because he was part of it.
“They looked hard at Jeff,” Williams said of MLB. “They looked at hours of his game tapes to try to see if they could see something going on. They made serious inquiries in Vegas abut Jeff. They looked for connections between Jeff and either organized crime figures or also looked for any cut-out or intermediary that might know both the pitcher and the gambler that could relay stuff. They looked hard.”
“But the personal contact with Locke just came at the very end,” Williams continued. “The MLB investigators met with Locke and described what was going on and told him they had decided he was blameless. So he gave an interview to the Pittsburgh baseball beat writers and he said it wasn’t that distracting because he was cleared at the time he first learned about the gambling allegations.”
Williams said Barr was truthful and cooperative with investigators.
“To me, it’s sort of a cautionary tale about (social media),” Williams said. “It’s not like the old days where the fan could just yell at you from the stands. They can really interact directly and you got to be careful what you say. It’s easy for me to give advice to celebrity athletes, but (Barr) thought this was his big buddy from back in the day and he just couldn’t get over the fact that his big buddy was too important to even respond to his Facebook message – and away we go. I don’t think the gabler intended it to get as out of hand as it did. I think he’s perhaps sorry he ever got involved. But this is the way it unfolded.”