One day after Braves outfielder Brian Jordan called John Rocker "a cancer,"
the Braves removed Rocker, sending the controversial reliever to Triple-A
Richmond to work out his various problems.
The likelihood that Rocker will accompany the Braves on their first trip to
New York to play the Mets beginning June 29 seems extremely remote now.
Several New York fans had expressed an eagerness to see Rocker return to New
York, whose residents he claims to despise.
Braves manager Bobby Cox insisted Rocker was demoted for terrible pitching
performances, but it seemed more than coincidental that the move was made the
day after Rocker threatened a reporter and Rocker's teammates expressed disgust
with his outlandish, unprofessional behavior. Rocker was fined $5,000 by the
team for his outburst, which was directed at Sports Illustrated writer Jeff
Pearlman, the author of the December article in which Rocker was quoted as
being critical of minorities, homosexuals and foreigners.
Major League baseball officials were preparing to interview witnesses to
the incident, in which the 6-4, 225-pound Rocker turned the bill of his cap
around so he could come within inches of Pearlman as he backed him up and down
the tunnel outside the clubhouse. Yankees announcer Bobby Murcer and a few
Yankees writers were expected to be called. One witness said Rocker brushed up
against Pearlman twice but that Rocker did not close his fist or strike
Witnesses say Rocker threatened Pearlman, telling him, "Do you know what I
can do to you?" and "This isn't over between us."
Rocker, who hadn't encountered Pearlman since the article appeared in late
December, suggested there was premeditation to his actions. "I've been waiting
for this," witnesses quoted Rocker as telling Pearlman.
"I am saddened by the regrettable incident that took place at Turner Field
in Atlanta on Sunday," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Major
League Baseball is monitoring the situation closely, and I have been in contact
with Braves president Stan Kasten throughout the day. While Major League
Baseball is conducting its own investigation, I am satisfied that the Braves
moved expeditiously and have treated the matter with the seriousness it
Some baseball officials suggested Selig couldn't be blamed for having
feelings of vindication, given that it was he who had handed down the lengthy
suspension of Rocker, which was cut to two weeks by arbitrator Shyam Das.
Baseball does not have precedent for punishing players who yell at
sportswriters, and baseball's reluctance to fight with the feisty players'
union again probably makes it unlikely that Selig will punish Rocker in this
Rocker had 10 saves, but walking 25 in 18 1/3 innings cost him his closer's
job and forced Cox to do excessive juggling of his relievers. "This is
something that's been brewing for a while," Cox said. "We've been bailing him
out. It couldn't go on like that forever."
Several Braves expressed displeasure with Rocker on Sunday, but none was
more outspoken than Jordan, a team leader, who said, "You've got one guy being
a cancer time and time again. Eventually, it's going to have an effect on the
A full year of play probably would have qualified Rocker for arbitration as
a "super two" player (a player with almost three years' experience), but even
a short stay in the minors probably will prevent that. Rocker entered the year
with one year, 147 days of service time, and this year it took two years, 131
days to be a "super two." Rocker makes $290,000 this year but would be in
position to earn as much as $2 million next year if he had a decent season and
qualified for arbitration, a longshot now.
Taking Rocker's place on the roster is top prospect Jason Marquis, a
righthander from Tottenville High School on Staten Island.