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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How a small-time handicapper concocted a wild MLB game-fixing tale

Gives new meaning to the phrase, “this game is a Locke.”

In the waning days of the 2012 major league season, Niki Congero received an unusual text message. It came from a man she had never met — a sports handicapper who for a couple of weeks had been texting unsolicited betting tips to her cellphone.

“LOL,” wrote the man, who identified himself as James Hunter from VIP Sports. “I got a baseball game that will be fixed on sunday.”...

At first the tips were nothing special, Congero told The Center for Investigative Reporting. Then the handicapper guaranteed her a winner in the Sept. 16 game between the Pirates and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. “My best friend is pitching today for the ­pirates,” Hunter texted. “His name is jeff locke. he will not have a good day.” In a later text he wrote, “Tell your biggest people that pirates game today is fixed. My friend will be throwing this game.”

Pittsburgh jumped out to an early lead behind Locke, a late-season call-up. While the Bucs were ahead, Congero says, the handicapper phoned her, acknowledging that the game wasn’t going the way he had predicted. He implied that he was in touch with the lefthander even as the game was under way….

Sure enough, in the bottom of the fifth inning, Locke fell apart….

MLB’s own investigators and organized-crime detectives from the New York City Police Department were deployed to learn the handicapper’s identity and unravel the plot.

Before it was over, their investigation would lead to a tense standoff by the side of an Arizona desert road, where more than a dozen armed officers confronted two frightened young women with a baby in an effort to track down James Hunter. The outcome would hinge on separating fact from fantasy in the interpersonal dynamics between two former youth-baseball teammates from a small New England town — one of whom grew up to become a major league pitcher, the other a sports gambler.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:08 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cubs, fixed games, gambling, jeff locke, pirates

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   1. The District Attorney Posted: August 13, 2014 at 03:54 PM (#4770386)
This would have unraveled a lot quicker if the guy's friend was Clayton Kershaw...
   2. JJ1986 Posted: August 13, 2014 at 04:43 PM (#4770432)
MLB investigators are insanely out-of-control:

We have proof you fixed baseball games, Barr remembers the investigators telling him before adding that they were going to convict him on a “ton of charges” and send him to prison for years. When Barr denied fixing games, he says Burnham “went crazy on me ... cussing at me, telling me I needed to cooperate — he called me a liar so many times in that car.” Burnham is a muscular, grim-faced man, a former U.S. Marine sergeant. His booming voice filled the SUV.

The investigators advised Barr that “the best thing for me was just to admit it,” he says. “They told me they would give me 10 minutes with ­Kendra and the baby to say goodbye before they took me away.” Rattled and scared, Barr tried to explain his boyhood friendship with Locke, saying the story of fixing games was just “something stupid” that had begun with a slight on Facebook. He hadn’t talked to Locke since they were kids. Burnham, Barr says, yelled, “I know you’ve talked to Jeff Locke!”
   3. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:07 PM (#4770455)
From the story, the behavior of the MLB investigators isn't as disturbing as what the police did throughout this. In addition to terrorizing and lying to Barr's family over accusations of a non-violent crime, the relationship of the NYPD and local AZ police with MLB's investigative unit is sort of startling. It sure seems like AZ and NY were providing a lot of resources and manpower to MLB. You'd think police in NYC would have better and more appropriate ways to use their time than investigating game-fixing accusations between a guy in Phoenix and a guy in Pittsburgh.

Also, Barr admits and to being a liar and comes across in this story as quite the piece of ####, so it makes it hard for me to trust anything he says about anything. People like him make me ashamed to be a gambler. Out of Locke/Barr/MLB/police, Locke is the only one who doesn't appear to have done anything wrong.
   4. PASTE Will Notice Harper When He Hits .467 (Zeth) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:24 PM (#4770470)
In fairness, I also predicted Jeff Locke would have a bad day on September 16, 2013.

In double fairness, so did anyone else who followed the Pirates.

Jeff Locke didn't have any good days last August or September.
   5. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:29 PM (#4770472)
Of course the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is involved in this.
   6. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4770477)
From the story, the behavior of the MLB investigators isn't as disturbing as what the police did throughout this.

What's a criminal enterprise if it can't buy some cops?
   7. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:51 PM (#4770489)
In double fairness, so did anyone else who followed the Pirates.

Jeff Locke didn't have any good days last August or September.

man--you're not kidding. For his career, he has an ERA of 2.88 in March thru July, and then well over 6 in August and September
   8. PASTE Will Notice Harper When He Hits .467 (Zeth) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:55 PM (#4770493)
He was very, very obviously out of gas by early August last year, but the Pirates kept on running him out there every fifth day to get lit up like a movie marquee during most of the stretch run.

Or maybe he was throwing games, I don't know.
   9. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:56 PM (#4770495)
#2 - That story asks you to put a lot of stock in Barr and his family's word. No thanks.

He would take the polygraph exam as long as MLB agreed to pay him $10,000 if the test showed he was telling the truth. Burnham agreed to think it over, Barr says. Later “he called me back and said no, and that was it.”

Oh please.
   10. morineko Posted: August 13, 2014 at 06:02 PM (#4770499)
#9--Locke's confirmed (today) that he knew this guy when he was in elementary school and that the family moved away, and he hasn't talked to him since then. Also, you know, Locke didn't fix games. He just is really bad at pitching late in the season.
   11. TJ Posted: August 13, 2014 at 06:56 PM (#4770532)
I would have been more suspicious if the guy had said that the fix was in and Locke was going to have a good day...
   12. Win Big Stein's Money Posted: August 13, 2014 at 07:22 PM (#4770552)
You'd think police in NYC would have better and more appropriate ways to use their time

Like assaulting, choking, and arresting a naked woman and her children after responding to the wrong apartment or suffocating a man to death...
   13. Bhaakon Posted: August 13, 2014 at 08:55 PM (#4770644)
MLB investigators are insanely out-of-control:

Sounds like SOP for a lot of police officer, that is they brow beat the suspect into a confession with threats, assumptions, and enough actual evidence to hopefully fool the suspect into thinking that the police know more than they actually do. I imagine that most MLB investigators are ex-law enforcement.
   14. Adward Posted: August 13, 2014 at 09:27 PM (#4770665)
There I was, wiping unfenced outfield debris off my Legion uniform after a pell mell dive for the ball when another outfielder walked up, holding someone's discarded monocle. "Your glasses fell off." "Oh." (Concise exchanges like this are key to outfielders avoiding each other and the wall. One tends to be on their own when it comes to more, uh, earthly matters.) Reassessing my position at the bottom of a heavily chlorinated swimming pool I jog in towards the loud and distant ants who possess duct tape and if I'm lucky complementary sugar water. Indifferent to my condition they quickly turn me around before repairs can be effected, compensating me for my loss with a large plastic hat. After finding a batter's box I remembered the pitcher was a lefty and sought out the other one. He started into his windup, the man waving his arms next to 3rd base failing to distract me from my task, when all of a sudden a fuzzy ping pong ball bore in on me. Some of life's miracles are natures work, others are born from aluminum bats. Getting the sweet spot of the handle on the ball, you'll know by the "argh" sound, I found myself arriving at first in record time. Later, after surviving what was surely a series of illegal pick off moves (since when can you use your left arm to throw to first?!) I was told I'd gotten a hit off of Jeff Locke. Seemed easy enough. Too easy?
   15. Batman Posted: August 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM (#4770911)
One time I heard Ron Kittle say "Sure, kid." to a kid who asked if he was going to hit a home run that day. Then Kittle did hit one. I should have called the Maricopa sheriff immediately.
   16. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: August 14, 2014 at 11:45 AM (#4770997)
Three months passed. Then, in January 2013, two MLB investigators visited Congero in Las Vegas. They wanted to see the text messages from the handicapper and paid her $150 for her phone. She says she never heard from them again -- which baffled her considering the accuracy of Barr’s prediction.

I know they are private investigators, but this payment for information is weird to me.
   17. gehrig97 Posted: August 14, 2014 at 11:56 AM (#4771006)
well, they gave out bricks of cash for information on A-Rod/Biogenesis.
   18. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 14, 2014 at 12:19 PM (#4771031)
Cops are scum.
   19. Boxkutter Posted: August 14, 2014 at 01:25 PM (#4771088)
I know they are private investigators, but this payment for information is weird to me.

I believe the money was to replace her phone, not a payoff.
   20. Moeball Posted: August 14, 2014 at 02:54 PM (#4771156)
I would have been more suspicious if the guy had said that the fix was in and Locke was going to have a good day...

That would have been much more difficult to pull off...that would require bribing the entire opposing lineup...much more costly.

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