Work in Sports
Braves demote Rocker to Class AAA Richmond
Posted: Tuesday June 06, 2000 01:51 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- John Rocker was banished to the minors Monday.
The team insisted it was because of his arm, not his mouth.
The timing suggested it was a little of both.
Already struggling with his control, the Atlanta Braves reliever was sent to Class AAA Richmond just one day after he threatened the reporter who wrote the story about Rocker's bigoted views on foreigners, gays and minorities.
"He told us in spring training he was going to change," catcher Eddie Perez said. "But he didn't change a thing. Maybe he can go down there and change."
Braves officials said the move had been under discussion for nearly a week as a way of addressing Rocker's control problems -- 25 walks in 18 1/3 innings. But Sunday's confrontation with Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman made the decision a no-brainer.
"He made the decision himself when he went after the SI guy," said outfielder Brian Jordan, who called Rocker a "cancer" after his confrontation with Pearlman. "He made another boo-boo."
Perez wondered if Rocker, who had 38 saves a year ago, will ever bounce back from the stigma of his offensive comments.
"I don't know if this will help him or hurt him," Perez said.
Rocker, 25, also was fined "a substantial amount" for threatening Pearlman, according to manager Bobby Cox. A baseball source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the amount was $5,000.
Cox said the Braves planned to demote Rocker last week but couldn't because of an injury to reliever Greg McMichael.
"This is something that's been brewing for a while," he said. "We've been bailing him out. It couldn't go on like that forever."
Commissioner Bud Selig said he was saddened by Sunday's confrontation.
"While major league baseball is conducting its own investigation, I am satisfied that the Braves have moved expeditiously and have treated the matter with the seriousness it deserves," he said.
Rocker, who has 10 saves and a 3.93 ERA, told the Braves he would have to talk to his agent before reporting to the minors. He cleaned out his locker and left the stadium without talking to reporters.
"Obviously, nobody is happy when they get sent down from the major leagues, but I don't think it's something his agent is going to be able to change," Braves pitcher Kevin Millwood said.
The demotion has the potential to cost Rocker millions if he remains in the minor leagues for 20 days or more.
Rocker, who is making $290,000 this year, was on track to become eligible for salary arbitration next winter. If he stays in the minors less than 20 days, he probably would get $3 million or more in arbitration instead of the $300,000 to $400,000 he would receive if Atlanta can unilaterally determine his salary.
Rocker was given the news about the minors when arrived at Turner Field for the game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was clearly surprised.
"He thinks he's pitching good," said Cox, who has pulled Rocker out of several crucial situations.
The Braves called up 21-year-old pitcher Jason Marquis from Double-A Greenville to replace Rocker.
Pearlman had a chance encounter with Rocker in a tunnel near the clubhouse Sunday, about two hours before the final game of the Braves-Yankees series. Pearlman said Rocker made threatening comments such as, "This isn't over between us," and, "Do you know what I can do to you?"
The confrontation lasted about two minutes and became so heated that Rocker flipped around the bill of his cap so he could get face-to-face with the reporter.
"I was scared," Pearlman said.
The Braves, already shorthanded in the bullpen with injuries to McMichael and Kevin McGlinchy, will use Rudy Seanez and Mike Remlinger to close out games. The Braves also have Kerry Ligtenberg, who had 30 saves in 1998 but missed all of last season after elbow surgery.
Cox detailed several situations recently in which Rocker struggled, including a balk in Florida that lost a game. He also loaded the bases with a four-run lead in the ninth Saturday against the Yankees and nearly gave up a game-tying grand slam to Shane Spencer, whose long fly was caught at the edge of the left-field wall.
On Sunday, Rocker pitched a scoreless ninth inning after giving up two singles and being called for a balk. The Yankees won 7-6.
"When John is going good, he makes us a better ballclub," Millwood said. "But he's not the same John Rocker as last year."
Braves general manager John Schuerholz said he hoped Rocker could relax in the minors and "get back in the groove."
The Braves travel to New York for the first time this season on June 29 for a series against the Mets. Schuerholz said the New York trip would not influence the decision on when to bring Rocker back.
"If he gets people out, he'll be back up here," he said.
But in New York, Mets reliever Turk Wendell said he didn't expect to see Rocker at Shea Stadium anytime soon.
"Let him grow up and mature a little bit, on and off the field," he said.
Some Braves feel that Rocker is disrupting the chemistry on the team with the best record in baseball.
"You've got one guy being a cancer time and time again," Jordan said Sunday. "Eventually, it's going to have an effect on the team."
After Rocker's comments appeared in a December issue of SI, the team called together about a half-dozen players to discuss what action should be taken with Rocker. The consensus was to give him another chance.
"Obviously, it hasn't worked," Jordan said.
Pearlman said it was the first time he has spoken with Rocker since the article, in which the pitcher said 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?" In addition, Rocker called a black teammate a "fat monkey."
Selig suspended Rocker for the first month of the regular season and fined him $20,000, but an arbitrator reduced the suspension to two weeks and the fine to $500. The pitcher also was ordered to undergo sensitivity training.