Work in Sports
Rocker delivers well-prepared speech to media
Posted: Friday June 30, 2000 12:13 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- John Rocker's mouth got him in trouble, so this time he tried a pen.
When a newly composed Rocker arrived in New York early Thursday morning, the Atlanta Braves reliever went to his hotel room and started scribbling on some stationery.
Later in the day, he showed his work to former major league reliever Joe Sambito, who now works for his agents. Sambito did some minor editing to the four sheets, and when Rocker returned to Shea Stadium for the first time in 8 1/2 months, he showed it to Braves officials, who agreed he could address the media.
"As some of you can attest," Rocker said later, "I get off on tangents."
This was not the brash Rocker of October, who called Mets fans "stupid" and said "it's a lot of fun to know that I can get in these people's heads and can get them to react the way I want them to. All that does is fire me up."
This was a contrite Rocker.
Accompanied by a Braves officials, he walked into the old New York Jets' locker room underneath the right-field stands, carefully making his path through a crowd of reporters, went to a podium in front of a Mets' logo and read what he had written, holding the original papers, crossouts and all.
The Mets showed a tape of the speech on their 26-foot-high video screen in left field, just before the first pitch of the hyped series.
"First of all, I would like to say that I am happy to be back in New York, believe it or not," he said, sounding more like a politician than a pitcher. "I've been involved in some great games and always seem to pitch well here."
It was no different Thursday. Rocker pitched a perfect eighth inning as Atlanta beat New York 6-4.
His comments in October angered fans, and his remarks to Sports Illustrated in December sparked a nationwide furor. Because of his anti-New York, anti-foreigner, anti-gay diatribe, he wound up with a two-week suspension, making his return to Shea a major event that attracted hundreds of reporters who crowded the field during batting practice as if it were a postseason game.
"Unfortunately, the situation has continued to escalate about my presumed hatred for the people of New York. The comments I made over six months ago offended many people. I am fully aware of this, and for that I sincerely apologize."
After the game, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said Rocker's apology sounded genuine, especially compared to his March statement.
"It was a lot better than the one in spring training. It sounded like it came more from him," Jones said.
For months, many Braves had wondered if Rocker was speaking words others had written.
"It sounded like he was sincere in his apology," winning pitcher John Burkett said.
Still, Rocker couldn't resist taking a slight shot at reporters.
"This situation, however, has become a distraction to many of my teammates. Unfortunately, many members of the media have overestimated my significance. I am merely a baseball player, guys, and in the great scheme of things, my thoughts, opinions and attitudes are of little importance," he said.
"In many cases, attempts have been made to make this situation bigger than the game itself, and in every realm of sports, nothing is the bigger than the game. Not the players who play it, not the fans who watch it and not the people who write about it."
He read slowly, pausing between some words for emphasis.
"I have apologized and have felt badly for anyone who took my comments personally," he said. "My comments weren't made with intentions of malice. However, many people perceived these comments to be malicious, and for this, I apologize once again.
"I also feel that the people of New York as well as the media have misjudged me. I am not the evil person that has been portrayed."
When fans listened to the replay, most were silent. There were some boos, but they were scattered.
"The overwhelming majority of the people in this city are extremely charismatic and full of personality," Rocker said, "although a bit spirited at times. But, you know, that doesn't make them bad people."
With that, Rocker said he would answer only baseball-related questions forever more, and retraced his path out of the room.
"Hopefully, it will be over," Burkett said after the game, "but I doubt it."