Baseball found a way to connect two small town Iowa kids at Iowa State, and it was the reason they were still together in the major leagues.
Bob Locker was a pitcher for the Seattle Pilots that season, and Jerry McNertney was a catcher. It was 1969, and the two former Cyclone teammates were playing together in the major leagues for the fourth consecutive season.
“It was amazing and a true oddity that two people from Iowa State particularly [played on the same team],” Locker said. “Because there weren’t very many players at that point who got a chance to play professional baseball or make it to the majors.”
After playing the previous four seasons for the Chicago White Sox, Seattle had taken McNertney in the expansion draft in 1968. Locker joined him in Seattle that summer after being traded to the Pilots.
Locker and McNertney both enjoyed the outdoors. Following a home game that summer in Seattle, they hooked up a camper and headed 150 miles south to fish.
“We’d take off after a night game, drive all night and arrive at daylight at a steelhead stream in Oregon and fish until 11 in the morning,” Locker said. “Usually, since I was a reliever, I didn’t have to pitch until the late innings if I had to pitch at all. So Jerry would climb in the back at 11 o’ clock, and we’d drive 150 miles back to Seattle.”
Locker joked that they did not catch much — referring to fish and not baseball. McNertney said it was enjoyable, even if they could not do it often.
“We didn’t do that very often, but we did it a few times that summer,” McNertney said with a laugh. “You couldn’t do it everyday or you couldn’t have survived.”
Making it to the majors
Locker, a native of George, Iowa, could throw bullets. But during his initial seasons at Iowa State, he was wild.
With the help of longtime ISU baseball coach Cap Timm, who Locker credits with helping him become a professional player, he was able to develop a sinker and become a major league talent.
“I can remember standing on the mound and Cap had a couple of suggestions,” Locker said. “He said, ‘Bob, maybe if you just hold onto the ball a little longer and bend over your front leg you can get the ball down in the strike zone, and we can find out whether you can get hitters out.’”
So Locker bent his leg, and he saw improvement. During his senior season in 1960 he earned all-Big Eight honors going 3-2 with a 3.50 earned run average and a team-leading 41 strikeouts.
After that season, Locker was offered contracts by three professional teams, including the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox. He chose the White Sox, where he joined fellow Cyclone McNertney in the minor leagues.
Although McNertney is one year older, he and Locker had played together for a short period of time at Iowa State in the late 1950s. There, McNertney, a Gilbert, Iowa, native, started three seasons and helped lead the Cyclones to the College World Series in 1957 with a .302 average and 20 runs batted in.
And then he signed with the White Sox where he would team up for a second time with Locker.
“I honestly never really dreamed that I would get to play in the big leagues, I just wanted to get to play more baseball,” McNertney said of signing. “Fortunately, I got to play with Bob in college and then again in the minor leagues and then again in the big leagues together.”
During his career, Locker won two World Series with the Oakland Athletics, and today is the lone Cyclone to appear in a World Series game. With his fastball and sinker he learned under Timm at Iowa State, he also became a steady reliever. In 10 seasons in the big leagues, Locker appear in 576 games and logged 879 innings with 95 saves with a 2.75 ERA.
“The manager [in Chicago] liked the fact that I could get the ball over the plate and get a ground ball,” Locker said. “So I started out as a reliever and ended up finishing a career never having started a game.”
McNertney played in nine big league seasons, appearing in 590 games and hitting 27 homeruns.
But thanks to Locker, most of his games were at a new position behind the plate.
A major league friendship
After the 1960 season in the minors at Idaho Falls, Locker decided to head to Chicago to sign a new contract and asked McNertney to come along.
“On the trip in we were talking baseball and hunting and fishing, and Bob just said to me, ‘Mac, you aught to be a catcher. You would be a good catcher,’” McNertney said of their conversation during the ride. “And that was kind of the end of it.”
When they arrived, Locker shared his idea with the farm director of the White Sox. McNertney had caught for no more than a handful of games, and those were in high school. But by the time the two signed new contracts that day, McNertney was headed to spring training as a catcher.
“Bob had what you call a fastball that nobody could catch,” said Ken Green, who played at Iowa State from 1959 to 1960. “McNertney did not go into the pros as a catcher, but when they were in the minor leagues he was the one that would catch him.”
The transition pushed McNertney to the major leagues in 1964, and Locker, after a couple years in a military stint, joined him in 1965.
For three seasons with the White Sox, McNertney often caught Locker’s powerful fastball, and the two roomed together. They did the same when they were both sent to Seattle for the 1969 season.
Today, those memories of long fishing trips and games of catch are still bright for the two ballplayers who built a friendship in baseball.
“Jerry McNertney and I were friends then, are friends now and still do things in the outdoors,” Locker said. “I think having Jerry with me with the White Sox and Seattle Pilots is one of my more fond memories.”