In April of 2018, I received an email from Mark Healey of gothambaseball.com. I’d become acquainted with Mark after my book, Rumor In Town was published in 2007. I appeared on his podcast a couple of times in an effort to promote the book. It’d been a while since we’d last corresponded and his email was to the point: Just read Skip Lockwood’s bio “Insight Pitch” and he takes quite a few shots at your grandpa; thought you should know…

I read his words again, confused. Who’s Skip Lockwood? A quick Google image search awakened memories from my trove of childhood baseball cards. But why was this guy taking shots at my grandpa? Still in Google, I searched his book and entered Babe Dahlgren in the search window. That’s when my blood began to boil. Aside from the various cheap shots Lockwood takes at my grandfather, it was an alleged fist fight between the two inside the clubhouse that ultimately motivated me to write this after sitting on it for over a year.

Before discrediting Chapter 7 of Skip Lockwood’s Insight Pitch, here’s some background. In 1964, my grandfather was a hitting/film coach for the Kansas City Athletics. Babe pitched the idea to club owner, Charlie Finley during the Winter Meetings in 1963 by showing him a 90 minute movie he’d produced on hitting. After watching the movie in a suite at the Statler Hotel in Los Angeles, and listening to Babe’s passion about film and how it could benefit hitters, Finley hired Babe on the spot for the ’64 season. His primary task was to film the A’s hitters during games, and then review the film with them so they could see their tendencies: good and bad. This method had never been used before – my grandfather was truly ahead of his time. During that summer in June, Skip Lockwood, a 17-year-old high school senior from Catholic Memorial High School in Boston signed a $100 thousand bonus with the A’s. Before Lockwood was assigned to the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League, Charlie Finley had him workout with the major league club. Lockwood joined the A’s in Cleveland on June 12.

He writes about that experience in Chapter 7 which is titled: An Unwelcoming Welcome to the Show. Leading up to the alleged fight between he and Babe, Lockwood makes several attempts at chopping my grandfather down. The following excerpts jumped out at me.

Excerpt from page 92: Insight Pitch – A coach named “Babe” was the opposite of the aforementioned gentleman. Babe was not held in very high esteem by the baseball community in general, against whom he continued to hold a grudge. He was the first major leaguer to fail a drug test and believed that he had been victimized by baseball brass. He had grown into a surly man, twenty years older looking than his age, and he was just barely hanging on to his present job by doing two things that no one else wanted to do: throw batting practice and record the game on tape. He hated both jobs, but it meant a paycheck and a uniform…

Lockwood’s claim that Babe was the first major leaguer to “fail” a drug test is false. It is also slanderous and I’d like to see what proof he has to back his claim. The truth is, in 1943 Babe approached baseball’s commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and asked to be tested for marijuana because of rumors spreading throughout the league. Babe volunteered to be tested, the league paid for the tests and the results came back negative but nothing was done to clear his name. It’s why I wrote, Rumor in Town. Here’s a clip of Babe talking with Keith Olbermann about the rumor in 1989.

With regards to hating his job with the A’s, Babe spent several years and thousands of dollars on equipment to make a film on hitting for the sole purpose of helping hitters – it’s what inspired Charlie Finley to hire him. Babe loved nothing more than using film to help ball players actually see what they were doing right, and what they were doing wrong. So, when Lockwood says that Babe hated his job, he couldn’t be more mistaken.

Excerpt from pages 92-93: Insight Pitch – Babe heard through the grapevine that the front office had signed a kid out of Boston, a bonus baby. Bunch of fools, he probably thought. Rookies are not worth the tobacco to spit on them, he probably said to himself. Babe also didn’t like Northerners, especially Bostonians.

For starters, Babe didn’t chew tobacco. He also treated rookies the same as veterans; wanting to help them all. Having only been around Babe for all of an hour, Lockwood takes great liberties with his “probably thought/probably said” quotes. His assertion that Babe “didn’t like Northerners, especially Bostonians” is baseless and cheap. Babe was a city kid who grew up in San Francisco. If he didn’t like someone it was because of their character, not because of race or origin.  

  • In 1935 Babe roomed with Mel Almada – the first Mexican born major leaguer.
  • In 1941 Babe and teammate, Charlie Gilbert, were held-up at knife point in Chicago by a couple of “thugs” as he always referenced them to me. It wasn’t until researching old newspapers for my book that I learned the two suspects were black – it never mattered to Babe to add that to his story.
  • Babe had the good fortune of playing in Boston twice throughout his career (1935 & 1941). Here are some examples of fan letters to a young kid in 1935 where Babe tries to help him with advice on how to play baseball – odd behavior for someone with such hostility towards Bostonians.    

Lockwood then describes meeting A’s manager, Ed Lopat, for the first time in the dugout at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. He paints Lopat as a cantankerous, tobacco spitting, gas passing buffoon. Lockwood’s dialogue with Lopat reads like a scene from The Natural between Roy Hobbs and Pop Fisher. You can almost hear Lopat’s lines being said in Wilford Brimley’s voice.

Excerpt from pages 94-95: Insight Pitch – My eyes wandered as I listened to the sharp crack of the ball hitting the bat as it echoed in the empty stadium. I walked over toward the dugout steps to meet Eddie Lopat, the A’s manager. “Hello,” Eddie said in a monotone, bored tone. He seemed to be concentrating partially on the batting practice and more intently on an attractive blonde near the first row. “You Lockhart?” “Lockwood,” I corrected and stuck out my hand. “Eddie Lopat,” he said without shaking hands or looking up. He lifted one cheek of his rear and cut wind in my direction. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Lopat,” I said, withdrawing my hand, embarrassed by his lack of civility. Running the corner of his eye over me with a wave of annoyance, a sneer formed on Eddie’s lips, and he spit tobacco on the steps between us. It splashed into a well-established puddle with some outliers landing on my new white cleats. “We’re all on a first name basis here. Save your formal greeting for them teachers you had in high school back East. Here, I’m Eddie to you…same as everyone else. Now get out of my face. Grab your ass in that pretty new uniform over to the bat rack, pick one out of the pitchers rack, the bat boys will show you where, and shag up there to the cage for a couple of swings before practice is over.”

Aside from the fact that the A’s didn’t wear white spikes (not cleats) until 1967, the problem with Lockwood’s story is that by his own admission on page 91 of Insight Pitch, he joined the team in Cleveland which would’ve been on Friday, June 12. Ed Lopat was fired as A’s manager the day before that, which was an off day. In other words, Ed Lopat wasn’t the manager when Skip Lockwood arrived, Mel McGaha was. How could Lockwood have such vivid memories and quotes from someone who wasn’t even there?

But the most egregious story in Chapter 7 is about an alleged fight that took place inside the clubhouse between Lockwood and my grandfather; a fight stemming from an incident that happened during batting practice.

In Lockwood’s version of the story which begins on page 97 of his book, he entered the batting cage to take a few swings and right away my grandfather deliberately started throwing at him. He claims Babe’s first pitch was well inside and that his second pitch hit him on the middle of his back causing him to fall to the ground (pause and let that sink in for a moment). Lockwood then says Babe’s third pitch carried a message and hit him hard on his shoulder – once again bringing Lockwood to the dirt. (In all my life I’ve never seen a BP fastball bring someone to their knees once, let alone twice, but I digress). Lockwood claims that as he left the batting cage, he looked out at Babe and shouted, “Throw the fucking ball over the plate, meat,” at which point Babe allegedly grabbed his crotch and yelled, “I’ve got your meat right here. Get your candy-ass back in there. You get two more pitches and I ain’t done with you.”

Lockwood describes Babe as a “Neanderthal” who was snorting like an escaped bull, sighting that one of the coaches had to run out and calm him down. According to Lockwood, the next hitter in the cage was Larry Stahl who’d just come back from a stint on the disabled list from a shoulder injury. Lockwood said Stahl yelled at Babe, “You hit me asshole and I’ll hide all the beer in the clubhouse.”

A little research shows that Larry Stahl didn’t make his major league debut until September 11, 1964 – 3 months after Lockwood worked out with the club. The following box score for the Birmingham Barons, the double-A affiliate for the A’s, appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times on June 4, 1964.

Notice Larry Stahl was batting third. If Stahl had a shoulder injury, it would’ve happened on June 4th or after. This makes it peculiar, if not unrealistic, that as a minor leaguer, Stahl would be returning from the disabled list with the major league club in Cleveland on the 12th. And if by some chance Stahl was there, would a minor league player who hadn’t made his major league debut yet call a big league coach “asshole?” Maybe in Hollywood – but not in real life.

After reading Lockwood’s account in utter disbelief, I poured through over 300 pages of my grandfather’s original manuscript for the book he was writing before he died. Perhaps he mentioned an incident that had been lost on me over the years. Low and behold, I found the following excerpt. Notice the identity of the player involved was intentionally left out.

Now compare what my grandfather wrote to Lockwood’s preposterous description of a fight that ensued inside the visitors’ clubhouse.

Excerpt from pages 102-104: Insight Pitch – As luck would have it, my locker was near Babe’s. He was still fuming about his personal problem with rookies, his misfortune compared to their good fortune. On his way for a beer, he passed my stool and bent over and said, “Wish I had stuck it in your rookie ear. Do you have any idea where your candy-ass is?” If the question was geographic in nature, in truth, I might have had a problem with the answer. Given the ire and sarcasm that was spitting out of the corners of his mouth, I guessed that Babe was aiming at a more philosophical response. “Where am I?” I replied mockingly, reflexively. When I left home less than twenty-four hours ago, I knew I would have to make it on my own. I’d have to fight my own battles. I would not be accepted into this game until I earned respect. But I was confident in my talent, and I would not be belittled for my age or where I came from. I did not understand Babe’s emotional instability, but I knew this was some kind of test being administered in public view. Dignity and honor were at stake, I was not going to back down, not today or ever. Babe was expecting me to timidly back down, but instead I stood up. “This here place belongs to professionals not the likes of you,” Babe growled, still in his underwear and showing a mid-section girth much in need of a few more sit ups and few less beers. He stepped closer. The players in near proximity spun around smelling an argument, hoping for more. Tension had been mounting in the locker room because of the team’s poor on-field performance. They all needed something to break the jinx. Players craned their necks around the sharp corners of the lockers. I assumed that civil camaraderie would come with wearing the same uniform, but apparently, sixty minutes in the green-and-gold were not enough to cement that bond. Babe was tightening his fists as he pushed one of the stools aside for better access. His nostrils flared. His gray hair lay flat on the side of his head. To me, he looked burnt out, but nevertheless, I decided I better take him seriously. Babe swore and moved to a more combative stance. He slapped his own stool to the floor. His complexion dimmed from white-gray to ashen. I widened my stance too, thinking, “Is this guy really going to take a swing at me. For what? Why?” “Yea, Rookie. Why don’t you just get up from here and go back where you came from!” Babe said working himself into a rage again. I let my eyes follow the overturned stool. I was very much an unproven rookie in this surrounding. Looking at me with contempt, he saw a pathetic, incompetent rookie, not worth the bonus or even deserving of a uniform. He emitted a single, guttural noise like an animal snort, triggering an adrenaline surge from his nervous system. He drew back to make a swing. “Don’t do that, old man,” I said reflexively. Again my words were not well chosen and, like before, only enraged him more. Babe had kept his resentment inside for way too long. Now he was in attack mode. His fists en route, he lost his balance, undisciplined in this type of physical behavior, and stumbled. The blow landed mostly on my shoulder. I saw it coming and ducked towards the towel bin. This was my first fight ever but I would soon find out, not my last. I was in survival mode. All eyes in the room were harvesting the show. I punched back with a right. I felt a swoop of elation as we surged backward. Babe was on one knee near his locker. He knew he’d been hit, and he knew he missed with his best chance. Enraged, he stopped to collect his thoughts from the impact and design a counter. This fight was far from over. Babe gathered himself, still kneeling, and noticed the assortment of extra bats stored handle-up next to the wall. He grabbed one, scraping his elbow, losing his balance for a second time. His mouth was distorted, and he tried to gain some leverage. The irony of the situation was palpable. I was a rookie and on display. Really. Here’s an old batting practice coach trying to make a serious mark on my head and career. I pounced on him, getting a knee into his chest, smothering the fight. “What the hell is going on?” yelled Luke Appling, one of the coaches. Both Babe and I were on the ground panting for air, absurdly dressed in our underwear. A pool of blood was dripping under the overturned stool. “Break it up. Break it up. What the fuck is going on? Why are you guys all sitting around watching them fight?” The fight was over. I was back up on my stool and out of breath, shocked that I had been in my first street fight. I stood up and caught a glimpse of a mirror on the wall about ten feet away. I didn’t recognize my own reflection. This was certainly not the welcome I imagined as I embarked on my career as a big leaguer. Mulling over the events of the day, I was mortified that I had been so disrespected by people I had assumed I should offer respect, but mollified that I had withstood the ordeal and maintained my self-respect. Having been king of the hill for so long, I was shocked at my new status of persona non grata. Still, I didn’t want to make more of this incident than it deserved. This childish “Babe” evidently had a problem that needed professional intervention. He mistakenly thought that I would be an easy target for his wrath. On the upside, I believed I had found an on field mentor in Ed Charles and an off-field protector in Luke Appling. Having been challenged as a rookie, I responded like a veteran. It was evident that from here on out I was going to have to fight for what was mine. Nothing was going to be handed to me.

My dad, grandfather and uncle – Municipal Stadium, 1964

Throughout the entire summer of 1964, my dad, who was 19-years-old, and uncle worked out with the Kansas City A’s before home games. They spent a lot of time on the field and inside the clubhouse. One would think if an incident like this ever happened (even if it was on the road), they would’ve heard about it. But they didn’t. My dad was so angered by Lockwood’s story that he reached out and spoke with Jim Gentile, Ted Bowsfield, Nelson Mathews and Wayne Causey. When they heard what Lockwood had written in his book they were in disbelief – mad even. They all liked and respected Babe. None of them saw the alleged fight between Lockwood and Babe, or heard about one.

I recently spoke with Ken Harrelson over the phone. We had a great conversation and he spoke highly of my grandfather; saying Babe was one of his favorite coaches. In 1964, Harrelson was in his second year in the big leagues with A’s and would’ve been there when Skip Lockwood arrived. I asked him about a fight between Lockwood and Babe inside the clubhouse. Harrelson responded candidly by saying, “I never saw it, and never heard about it.” He also told me that if something like that had happened, “everyone on the club would’ve known about it.”

In 1964, Rocky Colavito was in his first and only season with A’s. My dad wrote to Colavito and included Lockwood’s description of the alleged fight. He recently received the following statement.

How could a fight like this happen in the tight quarters of a clubhouse, a fight which resulted in a “pool of blood” and yet none of these six players saw it, or heard about it? Remember, Lockwood said on page 104 that, “All eyes in the room were harvesting the show.” Apparently Rocky Colavito, Jim Gentile, Ken Harrelson, Nelson Mathews, Ted Bowsfield and Wayne Causey didn’t buy a ticket to get in.

What about the press? On page 94 Lockwood says, “I was greeted by the media and took a few questions, but batting practice was not going to last too much longer, and I wanted to show my stuff.” Wouldn’t that same media have had an interest in writing a story about the $100,000 bonus baby fighting Lou Gehrig’s successor inside the clubhouse on his first day joining the club? Surely they would’ve heard about it. Writers would salivate over a story like that. Yet there isn’t one story written about it. How come? If a major league coach engaged in a fist fight with the teams’ newly signed bonus baby (who was still a minor) would that coach have kept his job? Of course not!

Common sense says none of this adds up. Frankly, it’s pathetic.

The truth is my grandfather embarrassed Skip Lockwood when he dressed him down that day in 1964 during batting practice. And after the two shook hands my grandfather moved on, but Skip Lockwood never did. It’s obvious he harbored resentment for years and never forgot it. And his book was his chance to get back at Babe Dahlgren with lies knowing he was dead and couldn’t defend himself. It doesn’t get lower than that.

When my grandfather died in 1996 at the age of 84, hanging in the back right corner of his garage was a red Everlast punching bag. He loved boxing. I named my dog Dempsey as a young boy because I’d heard so many stories from my grandpa about the great Jack Dempsey. If Babe had never made it as a baseball player, he would’ve tried boxing. As a 16-year-old in the California National Guard, he boxed and won a medal against an opponent several years older than him. He memorialized his medals in the back of his pocket sized phone book that he carried with him during high school and after. That small book is now in my possession.

Babe’s childhood phone book

A former welterweight champion in the Navy once asked Babe’s stepfather if he could manage the young fighter, but his stepfather said “no” because he wanted him to play baseball.  Several years later, as a rookie with the Red Sox in 1935, Babe and teammate Bill Werber exchanged punches inside the dugout at Fenway Park. On page 46 of Bill Werber’s book titled, Memories of a Ballplayer, he recalls the incident that stemmed from an error my grandfather made.

“It was a dumb play on Dahlgren’s part and I made the mistake of telling him so when we reached the Sox dugout at the end of the inning. He was as annoyed as I was and gave me his thoughts in what I considered strong language. In the dugout was a large tin bucket of Florida water and ice along with a sponge for wiping the sweat from your face. At that moment the sponge was in my hand and I shoved it into Babe’s face. The next thing I felt was his fist against my jaw and my head rocked against the concrete wall of the dugout. My left caught him on the bridge of the nose and blood gushed out on his uniform and dugout floor. At that juncture teammates separated us, to my great benefit. I had not known that Dahlgren had been an amateur boxer of some accomplishment in his native California.”

Babe hitting the speed bag in the basement of his San Francisco home during the winter in 1941.

I had to smile when Lockwood said that Babe “drew back to take a swing” and that Babe (referring to fighting) was “undisciplined in this type of behavior.” Unlike a cowboy in an old western movie who telegraphed his punches, when Babe threw a punch there was no warning; this was obvious to me as a youngster when I’d playfully spar with him. The only thing undisciplined in this story is Lockwood’s ability to tell the truth.

What say you, Skip?

*Matt Dahlgren is the author of Rumor In Town and the novel, The Flannel Past. He can be followed on Twitter: @mattdahlgren12 or at mattdahlgren.com  

    

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