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By Michael Thompson
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker’s post-season heroics crowned his meteoric rise in Major League Baseball, but many fans will only remember him for his interview with Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman.
The political incorrect statements he made to Pearlman cost him a suspension and the highest fine ever in MLB.
Rocker made his Major League debut in 1998, appearing in 47 games for the Braves. He had an ERA of 2.13 and a record of 1-3, with two saves.
It was in 1999 that Rocker had his best year in the majors, appearing in 74 games and posting 38 saves, with 104 strikeouts in only 72.1 innings pitched.
He pitched in two National League Championship Series for the Braves and one World Series, going an incredible 21-and-a-half innings without giving up a run in the playoffs.
As a closer, Rocker’s role was to pitch the 9th inning when his team had the lead and “close” out the game successfully. Unlike a starting pitcher who throws for seven or eight innings and has three or four pitches to rely on, Rocker’s role mostly was to throw fastballs that consistently reached up to 98 MPH.
Once he was called into a game to go for the “save,” Rocker would sprint from the bullpen at full speed. It was his trademark move, and the home crowd in Atlanta would rock with anticipation as he raced to the pitcher’s mound.
After having the fourth most saves in all of Major League Baseball in 1999, the sky seemed the limit for Rocker’s baseball career.
For comments that were quickly labeled “racist,” “homophobic” and “xenophobic,” Rocker was initially suspended without pay for the remainder of spring training and the first 28 games of the 2000 season. He was also forced to undergo “sensitivity training.”
After an appeal, Rocker’s suspension was changed to only 14 games.
But the damage was done.
“I didn’t enjoy the game as much after the ordeal with Sports Illustrated,” said Rocker.
The hometown crowd in Atlanta gave Rocker a raucous ovation upon his return in 2000 and cheered him all year, but the reception at opposing team venues was less than cordial.
“Road trips weren’t fun at all, whereas I once thrived off of the negative reaction from opposing fans (before the Sports Illustrated article), the reactions became far more personal.”
The 2001 season would be his last full year, appearing in 30 games for the Braves before being traded to the Cleveland Indians. He combined for 23 saves and 79 strikeouts.
In 2002, Rocker moved on to the Texas Rangers, appearing in only 30 games and recording one save. He finished his career with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003, appearing in only two games.
“Looking back, baseball was a great part of my life – a huge part of my life. Being in the show (MLB), and having the opportunity to spend so much time with my teammates and the camaraderie we built … that’s what I miss the most,” Rocker said.