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Rocker reprimanded

Braves' closer fined $20,000, suspended until May 1

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Tuesday February 01, 2000 02:00 AM

  John Rocker will still have to face his teammates once his suspension is over. Ezra O. Shaw/Allsport

NEW YORK (AP) -- John Rocker was suspended until May 1 by baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Monday for racial and ethnic remarks that "offended practically every element of society."

The Atlanta Braves reliever also was fined $20,000 and ordered to undergo sensitivity training for disparaging foreigners, homosexuals and minorities in a magazine interview.

The players' union said it intends to fight the ruling.

"Major league baseball takes seriously its role as an American institution and the important social responsibility that goes with it," Selig said.

"We will not dodge our responsibility. Mr. Rocker should understand that his remarks offended practically every element of society and brought dishonor to himself, the Atlanta Braves and major league baseball. The terrible example set by Mr. Rocker is not what our great game is about and, in fact, is a profound breach of the social compact we hold in such high regard."

The players' association said it expects to file a grievance over the penalty, believed to be the longest against a baseball player for an action not related to drug use since Lenny Randle of Texas got 30 days in March 1977 for punching his manager, Frank Lucchesi.

Q&A with SI's Tom Verducci
Johnny Phelps: The commissioner's office took so long in coming up with this decision. Are you surprised at all at the severity of the punishment?

Tom Verducci: I'm a little surprised, especially considering that they're basically barring this guy from spring training so he can't get his regular work in. You could argue that also hurts the Braves, not just John Rocker. The important thing to remember here is this is unprecedented. We can't look up other cases like it. When a pitcher hits a batter in a game intentionally, there's plenty of precedence for it. In this case, we're talking about something done off the field, the guy just opened his mouth, said awful things... there's nothing to compare it to. So there's no doubt this thing is headed for an arbitrator.

For complete Q&A click here
"I do not believe it is appropriate that I should be harshly disciplined for my misguided speech unaccompanied by any conduct on my part," Rocker said in a statement released by his agents. "I have previously apologized for my unfortunate remarks and stand by my apology."

A grievance would force the matter before Shaym Das, the sport's new independent arbitrator.

"We have been in consultation with Mr. Rocker and it is our present intention to appeal," said Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. "It is literally unprecedented to impose a penalty on a player for pure speech, offensive though the speech may be. That, coupled with the magnitude of the penalty, just as unprecedented, makes us optimistic about the outcome of the appeal."

With the season to start April 3, the suspension technically is to last 28 days. A suspension will not affect his salary, expected to be between $200,000 and $300,000.

Rocker may go to extended spring training starting April 3 and will be allowed to pitch in the minor leagues during the first month of the season.

"It really is about what I anticipated happening," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said of the penalty.

Union statement
Under the Basic Agreement, discipline of this type is appealable to impartial arbitration. We have been in consultation with Mr. Rocker and it is our present intention to appeal. It is literally unprecedented to impose a penalty on a player for pure speech, offensive though the speech may be. That, coupled with the magnitude of the penalty, just as unprecedented makes us optimistic about the outcome of the appeal.

    -- Gene Orza, Associate General
      Counsel for the MLBPA 
The 25-year-old pitcher was barred from joining the Braves at spring training. A high-ranking baseball official, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said the commissioner's office did not want Rocker to report with other Braves' pitchers and catchers, thus minimizing the number of media descending on Kissimmee, Fla., when camp opens Feb. 17.

Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, disputed that, saying it was not a factor.

Braves president Kasten said he hoped Rocker will not appeal.

"I hope we can separate the legal ramifications from John personally," Kasten said. "It's most important to get through this thing and get through it successfully. That's much more important than winning a couple of days."

Rocker's comments drew a strong response from Braves executive Hank Aaron and civil rights groups. Several Braves players have said they expect Rocker to have a difficult time when he rejoins the team.

"We believe that even after this process is complete, there are still two hurdles that remain," Kasten said. "John still has to reconcile himself with his teammates. After that, he has to reconcile himself with the community. It's not automatic. But with the right effort and the right attitude, I think it's possible."

The pitcher, whose fine will go to groups that promote diversity, was ordered by Selig on Jan. 6 to undergo psychological tests, but the results of those tests have not been disclosed.

Kasten and Schuerholz met about two weeks ago with seven senior members of the NL champions.

"The consensus in that room was that while they believed Jhn should be punished in some fashion, they were willing to give him a seond chance a a teammat," Schuerholz said. "But he must redeem himself and rectify the wrongs he has done."

Rocker said in a Sports Illustrated story published last month that he would never play for a New York team because he didn't want to ride a subway train "next to some queer with AIDS." He also said, "I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. ... How the hell did they get in this country?"

Crime & Punishment
MLB's longest non-drug or gambling-related suspensions
Year  Offender  Games  Offense 
1988  Pete Rose  30  shoving umpire 
1977  Lenny Randle  30  fighting with manager 
2000  John Rocker  28  disparaging remarks 
1986  Bill Madlock  15  mocked umpire 
* since 1950
He also called a black teammate a "fat monkey."

Braves owner Ted Turner has said Rocker deserves a second chance, and pointed out the reliever had apologized.

"I don't think we ought to hold it against him forever," Turner said. "He didn't commit a crime."

Rocker told ESPN last month that he had lost his cool and said things he didn't mean about New York fans because he wanted "to inflict some emotional pain in retaliation to the pain that had been inflicted on me."

Rocker said he was frustrated by Yankees fans who threw batteries at him during the World Series. He said Mets fans spit in his face and poured beer on him during the playoffs.

Related information
Braves' Rocker spews hate in SI
Rocker continues to draw more protests
Turner: Rocker deserves another chance
Jeter latest to rip Rocker for comments
Braves president Stan Kasten thinks John Rocker has a tough road ahead. (171 K)
Braves GM John Schuerholz says the players are willing to give Rocker a chance. (240 K)
Kasten says the Rocker scandal has adversely affected the Braves organization. (125 K)
One fan thinks Rocker got off easy. (70 K)
Schuerholz feels that the Braves can move ahead now. (92 K)
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