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John Rocker

A Nationwide Argument

"Off His Rocker" and "Screwball" screamed the headlines of New York's tabloid newspapers, the Post and Daily News. The papers were responding to the report that the pitcher was ordered by Major League Commissioner Bud Selig to undergo psychological testing and sensitivity training. This decision led pundits to wonder if Rocker's case had become one of political correctness run amok. Allan Barra of Salon called Rocker a "whipping boy" who "got toasted by the media for saying the same things about New York [in public] that a lot of baseball executives say to each other about New York in private." Another Salon columnist, Peter Collier, castigated the "politicization" of modern sports, characterizing as hypocritical the sports writers who called for Rocker's ouster. "The fact that Rocker had lived with Braves' star Andruw Jones and other black and Hispanic teammates, in his own family house, for several years counted for little," said Collier. Nor was the media satisfied with the level of Rocker's public remorse, he added. The pitcher, Collier said, had "merely apologized instead of abjectly abasing himself and crying … and agreeing to shed his raunchy joie de vivre and spend the rest of his life as a pilgrim walking the rocky road of racial reconciliation."

Others felt Rocker got what he deserved. "The point is," wrote Clarence Page in Philadelphia Business Journal, "that Rocker's sentiments, expressed in a rude and crude attempt at humor, were unacceptable in a civilized society, let alone the entertainment industry known as professional sports." Rocker was returned to the Triple-A league while serving out his suspension.

An independent arbitrator cut Rocker's suspension in half, and the pitcher rejoined the Braves in training camp in March 2000. Some of his teammates angrily confronted him, leading Rocker to plead, "Please, guys, let me play." After settling some scores with his fellow ballplayers, Rocker appeared before spectators in central Florida. Some of their reactions were generous: "We still love you, John!" one woman shouted. In June Rocker returned to the mound and seemed to struggle, surrendering five runs and eight walks in his first five innings. By the end of that month, however, he seemed to have returned to form, and in a generally peaceful return to Shea Stadium, Rocker retired all three batters in the one inning he pitched against the Mets.

Though he finished the 2000 season with a 2.89 ERA, Rocker's days with the Braves were numbered. He was traded first to the Cleveland Indians, then to the Texas Rangers, who called him back from Triple-A play in Oklahoma. Rocker's 2002 season with the Rangers was cut short by a bout with bursitis that put him on the disabled list for several weeks. He was not out of the headlines, however: Rocker reportedly got into a flap outside a Dallas restaurant in August of that year, prompting another public apology. The athlete also turned actor, taking a bit part in a Georgia-filmed horror movie, The Greenskeeper.

Career Statistics

ATL: Atlanta Braves; CLE: Cleveland Indians; TEX: Texas Rangers.
1998 ATL 1 3 2.13 38.0 22 10 9 22 2
1999 ATL 4 5 2.49 71.1 47 24 20 37 38
2000 ATL 1 2 2.89 53.0 33 23 17 48 24
2001 CLE 3 7 5.45 34.2 3 23 21 25 4
2001 ATL 2 2 3.09 32.0 25 13 11 16 19
2002 TEX 2 3 6.66 24.1 29 19 18 13 1
TOTAL 13 22 3.40 254.3 198 112 96 161 88

Whether or not Rocker's arm proves dependable, he will likely be remembered not so much for his throwing ability as for his temperament, which became a catalyst for public debate. Indeed, wrote David Martinson in High School Journal, Rocker's cause celebre can provide educational value: "John Rocker—paradoxical as it may be—has done the secondary school social studies teacher a genuine favor by bringing a specific example of controversial speech into a popular culture context."

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Famous Sports StarsBaseballJohn Rocker Biography - Hometown Talent Drafted By Braves, At Full Blast, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, A Nationwide Argument