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Rocker Demoted / He�s Richmond�s problem, thanks to wildness, threat

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.

New York Sports