John Rocker Heads to Minor Leagues

Thursday, June 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — John Rocker arrived today to begin his minor league assignment after two days of leaving everyone guessing about his future.

Rocker, who had to report by tonight's Richmond Braves game with the Toledo Mud Hens or face possible fines and a suspension, landed at Toledo Express Airport on a commercial flight from Atlanta.

He walked off the plane talking on a cell phone and stopped on the tarmac to sign a few autographs for passengers on his flight.

Rocker then hopped into a car with Atlanta Braves assistant general manager Frank Wren and they drove away, avoiding reporters.

Rocker didn't show up for the Triple-A team's game on Wednesday. He stopped by Turner Field to pick up his gear and dropped hints that he might leave the game altogether.

In his first public comments since being fined and demoted Monday, Rocker told an Atlanta radio station that he got ``a raw deal of raw deals this time.'' He also denied threatening the Sports Illustrated reporter who wrote the story exposing Rocker's offensive comments against gays, minorities and foreigners.

The Braves fined Rocker $5,000 for inappropriate conduct and said he was sent to the minors to work on his control.

``I don't know if I'm even going down or not,'' Rocker said Wednesday during a 30-minute interview on WKLS-FM's morning show. ``I'm still pretty chapped about the whole situation.''

The Braves played down Rocker's comments, saying he was just frustrated.

``He's going to report,'' said manager Bobby Cox, who didn't get a chance to speak with Rocker. ``Absolutely.''

During his radio interview on ``The Regular Guys'' show, Rocker said he may return to college and follow a new career path.

``I would be a stockbroker, probably,'' he said. ``There's plenty of things I can do besides dealing with the headaches of this garbage every single day.''

Some fans came out to Wednesday night's game hoping to see the reliever who had 38 saves a year ago for Atlanta, and the person who bashed gays, minorities and foreigners in a Sports Illustrated article.

``I love the attitude he has on the field. He just goes a little off the edge,'' said Steve Wood of Perrysburg.

Others were happy not to see him.

``I'm glad he's not here,'' said Braves fan Aaron Schwab. ``I think it'd be sad to see him retire, but I don't think it would be bad.''

``He's taken away from baseball,'' Schwab said.

Players from both teams insisted they wouldn't let Rocker's situation bother them.

``It's not affecting the mood or morale in the clubhouse,'' Richmond second baseman Steve Sisco said. ``Our team hasn't been in the headlines. Only one name has been in the headlines.''

The Mud Hens were eager to bat against Rocker, who was sent down after walking 25 in 18 1-3 innings. He had 38 saves last year, one short of the Braves franchise record.

``Everybody wants to face him,'' said Toledo infielder Chris Lemonis. ``We know he's a great pitcher. All of that other stuff, whatever.''

Security was increased at Ned Skeldon Stadium. A plastic fence was erected to keep fans away from a walkway both teams use to get to the field, and both clubhouses were closed to the media.

The Braves beat the Mud Hens 10-1 before 4,563 fans Wednesday, a crowd less than half the capacity of the stadium but bigger than most games this season. Many were there for a Shriners Night promotion that traditionally draws well.

Rocker, who has not spoken with reporters since his demotion, has made regular appearances on WKLS since joining the Braves in 1998. Last month, the station arranged a meeting with Andrew Tellers, the California man who mooned Rocker during a game at Dodger Stadium.

Rocker originally was scheduled to be on the show Monday, but backed out after the confrontation with Sports Illustrated' Jeff Pearlman, said Christopher Calandro, the show's executive producer. The pitcher called in Wednesday, however.

Most of the interview focused on his run-in with Pearlman, which occurred in a tunnel near the clubhouse before Sunday's game against the New York Yankees. The reporter was in Atlanta to do a story on the rematch of last year's World Series.

Rocker said the confrontation was blown out of proportion.

``I scold this guy for a minute and a half and instead of standing there and taking it like a man, he has to run back and say, `John Rocker yelled at me,''' Rocker said. ``Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have. But the only repercussions that guy got to face was to get scolded for a minute and a half, instead of being a man and saying, `I'm sorry for everything you've been through.'''

According to Pearlman, Rocker made threats like ``Do you know what I can do to you?'' and ``This isn't over between us.'' The pitcher denied those accusations.

``I told him what a bad article I thought it was,'' Rocker said. ``I told him a lot of stuff he put in the article didn't need to be said.''

He said Pearlman should apologize for causing the public outcry that followed publication of the remarks in December. Rocker was suspended for a month and fined $20,000 by commissioner Bud Selig, but an arbitrator reduced the sanctions to a two-week suspension and $500 fine.

``He, of course, put the blame for everything on me,'' Rocker said. ``He said he was just doing his job.''