By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
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John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves' star relief pitcher and designated pain in the ass, told the world last week that he doesn't need baseball anymore. He would just as soon take a new job -- as, say, a stockbroker -- as put up with the ration of unfair bleeding-heart crap that's come his way in the last six months. Quoth the Rockhead: "There's something to be said for a job that's not just a complete headache."
Well, exactly. The fact of the matter is that Rocker's current job has become a complete headache -- not just for him, but for his beleaguered Braves teammates, for half the population of Atlanta and for baseball fans everywhere who don't care to see the game besmirched by a 25-year-old who makes Ty Cobb sound like the head of the NAACP. This lunkhead's had his shot in baseball. And blown his chances for redemption. Now it's time for him to do something else for a living -- if not selling stocks, then maybe beating up inmates at the state pen, or working in sheets and hoods at the local department store. Even teammate Brian Jordan, who held his tongue and his temper for six months after Rocker let fly with his infamous Sports Illustrated diatribe ripping foreigners, gays and minorities, has finally had his fill of the loudmouthed left-hander. "You've got one guy being a cancer time and time again," Jordan said. "Eventually, it's going to have an effect on the team."
The last straw came on June 4, when the testy 6-4, 225-pound pitcher happened upon Jeff Pearlman, the SIreporter he blames for all of his woes. Instead of ignoring him, Rocker got in the writer's face. "This is not over between us," he shouted. "Do you have any idea what I can do to you?"
The better question might have been what Rocker was doing to himself. And to the Braves. One day after that outburst, Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz fined the pitcher $5,000 and demoted him to Richmond, the club's Triple-A farm club, so that he could work on his "control." That, too, has a brilliant exactitude. This year, the guy whom taunters call the Ku Klux Kloser has ten saves in eleven chances and a respectable 3.93 ERA, but he's given up 25 walks in only 18 innings of work. Still, his real control problem is with his mouth. And his mind. Even those First Amendment champs who staunchly defend Rocker's right to rant on about New York teenage mothers, Russians, prison convicts, minorities and kids with purple hair or to call a black teammate "a fat monkey" cannot defend his physical threats to the reporter. Or the damage he is doing to the winningest team in baseball.
When Rocker was sent down to Richmond, reporters asked MVP third baseman Chipper Jones if he'd said anything to the pitcher before he left. "I didn't talk to him when he was here," Jones scoffed. "Why should I talk to him when he leaves?" Mild-mannered Tom Glavine, a stalwart of the Braves' peerless pitching staff, said: "Sooner or later, he's got to look in the mirror and take responsibility for his actions. Everything that's happened has been a direct result of something he's said or done."
For his part, Rocker had nothing upbeat to say about his trip to the minors: "I got a pretty raw deal of raw deals this time." Stockbroker? Maybe. English teacher? Unlikely.
By league rule, the pitcher must spend at least ten days at Richmond working on his "control," but some Atlanta teammates believe he'll be gone much longer. Certainly, it's unlikely that the team cancer will be back by June 29, when the Braves begin a four-game set at New York's Shea Stadium, where Rocker ignited a running feud with Mets fans during last October's playoff series. Some boisterous New Yorkers had threatened to make Rocker's return a living hell, and neither team was looking forward to that. The Braves would probably like to tomahawk-chop him right out of the organization, but no other club seems interested in a trade.
Meanwhile, everyone knows who's league leader in ERA -- Egregious Redneck Appeal. After the SI story ran, baseball officials fined Rocker $20,000 (later reduced to $500), suspended him for 28 days (later reduced to fourteen) and ordered him to undergo psychological testing and sensitivity training. Everyone from Braves executive Henry Aaron to presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley criticized him. Even the rock band Twisted Sister took a shot, asking the Braves to stop playing their song "I Wanna Rock" when Rocker came into games.