At Full Blast Shooting outrageously from the lip, Braves closer John Rocker bangs away at his favorite targets: the Mets, their fans, their city and just about everyone in it
You are a disgrace to the game of baseball. Maybe you should
think before you shoot off your big fat mouth. You are an
immature punk who is lucky to be in the majors. Get some class!"
--A posting by "Metsfan4Life" on www.rockersucks.com
A minivan is rolling slowly down Atlanta's Route 400, and John
Rocker, driving directly behind it in his blue Chevy Tahoe, is
pissed. "Stupid bitch! Learn to f---ing drive!" he yells. Rocker
honks his horn. Once. Twice. He swerves a lane to the left.
There is a toll booth with a tariff of 50 cents. Rocker tosses
in two quarters. The gate doesn't rise. He tosses in another
quarter. The gate still doesn't rise. From behind, a horn
blasts. "F--- you!" Rocker yells, flashing his left middle
finger out the window. Finally, after Rocker has thrown in two
dimes and a nickel, the gate rises. Rocker brings up a thick wad
of phlegm. Puuuh! He spits at the machine. "Hate this damn toll."
With one hand on the wheel, the other gripping a cell phone,
Rocker tears down the highway, weaving through traffic. In 10
minutes he is due to speak at Lockhart Academy, a school for
learning-disabled children. Does Rocker enjoy speaking to
children? "No," he says, "not really." But of all things big and
small he hates--New York Mets fans, sore arms, jock itch--the
thing he hates most is traffic. "I have no patience," he says.
The speedometer reads 72. Rocker, in blue-tinted sunglasses and
a backward baseball cap, is seething. "So many dumb asses don't
know how to drive in this town," he says, Billy Joel's New York
State of Mind humming softly from the radio. "They turn from the
wrong lane. They go 20 miles per hour. It makes me want--Look!
Look at this idiot! I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman." A
beige Toyota is jerking from lane to lane. The woman at the
wheel is white. "How bad are Asian women at driving?"
Two months have passed since the madness of John Rocker was
introduced to the world. In the ninth inning of Game 3 of the
National League Championship Series, Atlanta Braves manager
Bobby Cox called for his closer--Rocker, a hard-throwing 6'4",
225-pound lefthander who would turn 25 two days later and who
had 38 regular-season saves, a 95-mph fastball and an unhittable
slider--to seal a 1-0 win over the Mets. The Shea Stadium
bullpen gate opened. A smattering of boos. Louder. Louder. Then,
on the fourth or fifth stride of Rocker's dash toward the mound,
it started: "A--hole! A--hole! A--hole!" Fifty-five thousand
nine hundred eleven fans--black, white, brown, whatever--united
by a common bond: hatred of John Rocker.
"You are a low-class, ignorant piece of scum who doesn't care
about anything or anybody. You are the Neanderthal. Maybe this
upcoming season Mike Piazza or any other Mets player will hit
you in the head with a line drive."
--A posting by "Ed" on www.rockersucks.com
John Rocker has opinions, and there's no way to sugarcoat them.
They are politically incorrect, to say the least, and he likes
to express them.
--On ever playing for a New York team: "I would retire first.
It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take
the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're
[riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next
to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out
of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom
with four kids. It's depressing."
--On New York City itself: "The biggest thing I don't like about
New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of
foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not
hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese
and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up
there. How the hell did they get in this country?"
But Rocker reserves a special place in his heart for Mets fans,
whom he began bad-mouthing during the regular season when the
Braves were battling the Mets for the National League East title
eventually won by Atlanta. Although the Braves beat the Mets in
a grueling six-game Championship Series (and thus reached the
World Series, in which they were swept by the other New York
team, the Yankees), Rocker has not allowed himself to let go of
the bitterness. You try to find different topics--hunting,
women, family--but it always comes back to three cold nights at
Shea, when bottles whizzed past his head, beer was dumped on his
girlfriend and 2,007 sexual positions involving him and a sheep
Like many Americans nowadays, Rocker is not one to look on the
bright side. He likes to bitch and moan and shred things, and
his voice--deep, intimidating--is naturally suited for the task.
So are the thick eyebrows, the killing-spree scowl. Want to know
how Atlanta will play in 2000? Ask later. Want to know why he
has Manson-like feelings toward the Mets and everything remotely
blue and orange? Heeeeere's Johnny....
--On Mets manager Bobby Valentine: "The guy is not professional.
Could you see [Yankees manager] Joe Torre or Bobby Cox getting
thrown out of a game and then putting on a Groucho Marx disguise
and sneaking back into the dugout? If a player got kicked out of
a game and did that, Joe Torre would probably suspend him for a
week. Bobby Cox would probably demand that the player be traded
and tell him not to come back to the team. The Mets' manager did
it! That, and his college rah-rah s---? I don't like it."
--On Mets fans: "Nowhere else in the country do people spit at
you, throw bottles at you, throw quarters at you, throw
batteries at you and say, 'Hey, I did your mother last
night--she's a whore.' I talked about what degenerates they
were, and they proved me right. Just by saying something, I
could make them mad enough to go home and slap their moms."
Much of Rocker's rancor traces to Game 4 of the NLCS, when the
fans were especially harsh, the night especially frigid and the
Braves one win from reaching the World Series. Rocker entered in
the eighth inning to protect a 2-1 lead, with two outs and
runners on first and second. After a double steal, John Olerud,
the Mets' dangerous-but-struggling first baseman who was 0 for 7
lifetime against Rocker, rapped a bouncer up the middle,
slightly to the left of second base. Atlanta reserve shortstop
Ozzie Guillen, who had just replaced starter Walt Weiss as part
of the double switch that brought Rocker into the game, lunged
awkwardly for the ball. It hit his glove, then dribbled into the
outfield. Two runs scored, and the Mets won. Afterward an angry
Rocker called Olerud's single "one of the more cheaper hits I've
given up my entire life." In retrospect he doesn't even allow
that much credit. "If Walt is playing shortstop instead of
Ozzie, that's not a hit, and we win," says Rocker. "But we had a
38-year-old guy [actually 35] playing shortstop, and he can't
make that kind of play."
That's not all. At Shea, Rocker was a one-man psycho circus. He
spit at Mets fans. He gave them the finger. During batting
practice he would shag a ball in the outfield, fake a toss to a
throng of waving spectators, then throw it back to the pitcher,
smiling wickedly. Once he took a ball and chucked it as hard as
he could at a net that separated fans from the field. "If there
wasn't a net there, it would have smoked 'em right in the face,"
he says. "But they're so stupid, they jumped back like the ball
would hit 'em."
Cox, who was routinely asked about Rocker's behavior, told the
media before Game 3 against the Mets that he had spoken with the
pitcher, requesting that he tone down the act. "That never
happened," Rocker says now. "Bobby never talked to me about it,
and I never talked to him. Why would he? We were winning."
"You are the most hideous man I have ever laid eyes on. Hope
your baseball career is short...just like your intelligence."
--A posting by "Michelle" on www.rockersucks.com
Rocker bemoans the fact that he is not more intelligent, and
though his father says John graduated with a 3.5 GPA from
Presbyterian Day High in Macon, Ga., in 1993, sometimes it's
hard to argue. In passing, he calls an overweight black teammate
"a fat monkey." Asked if he feels any bond with New York Knicks
guard Latrell Sprewell, notorious for choking coach P.J.
Carlesimo two years ago, Rocker lets out a snarl of disgust.
"That guy should've been arrested, and instead he's playing
basketball," he says. "Why do you think that is? Do you think if
he was Keith Van Horn--if he was white--they'd let him back? No
way." Rocker is rarely tongue-tied when it comes to bashing
those of a race or sexual orientation different from his. "I'm
not a racist or prejudiced person," he says with apparent
conviction. "But certain people bother me."
Rocker was into sports from the get-go; if it wasn't baseball,
football or basketball, it was hunting and fishing. (He has gone
hunting more than 40 times during this off-season.) His passion,
though, was baseball. By his senior year at Presbyterian in
1993, Rocker--who threw three high school no-hitters and a pair
of 16-strikeout games--was reaching 91 mph on the radar gun,
drawing as many as 15 scouts per game.
Rocker was the Braves' 18th-round selection in the June '93
amateur draft, lasting that long because many clubs thought he'd
enroll at Georgia. A starter who threw hard but was wild, Rocker
was also nervous and sometimes eccentric. At Class A Danville in
'94 he earned a mutant Fidrychian reputation for biting baseballs
and letting throws from the catcher nail him in the chest. "He
can get crazy," says Atlanta reliever Kerry Ligtenberg, who
missed last season with a torn right elbow ligament. "I've played
with John since '96. He's got a real short fuse. When it goes
off, it's probably better not to be around."
When he signed with the Braves, Rocker and his parents, Jake, an
executive at Georgia Farm Bureau Insurance, and Judy, who runs
an ad agency out of her home, agreed on a five-year plan. If
things weren't looking good, he would use the education clause
in his contract and finish college. (Rocker has completed two
semesters at Mercer.) By the end of the '97 season things
weren't looking good--5-6, 4.86 ERA at Double A Greenville--and
the Braves mentioned turning him into a reliever. "It didn't
sound too great to me," Rocker recalls. "I was a starter my
whole life." The Braves sent Rocker to the Arizona Fall League
to pitch exclusively from the pen. There, "I learned that
everything's about attitude," says Rocker. "I used to worry over
every pitch, every batter. The coaches in Arizona talked to me
about just going out and throwing. Don't worry, throw."
The following season Rocker stuck with the big club and appeared
in 47 games, mostly as a long reliever. During spring training
last year, after Ligtenberg got hurt, Cox named Rocker the
closer, and he amassed those 38 saves (in 45 opportunities) with
a 2.49 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings. Still it is his
mouth, not his arm, that has won him Rodmanesque notoriety.
"Some of the more stoic guys on the team probably get annoyed by
me," he says. "But the younger, fiery guys--we get annoyed at
their stoicism. There needs to be more atmosphere in our
clubhouse. I don't mean loud music and hooting and hollering.
But I don't think having the atmosphere of a doctor's office
In the locker room at Shea following Game 4 of the National
League Championship Series, as Rocker ranted and raved, fumed
and fussed, Mike Remlinger, a 33-year-old lefthanded reliever
with six years of major league experience, was asked whether
Rocker had gone too far. Remlinger--quiet, thoughtful--paused.
"The thing is," he said, "baseball is a game of humility. You
can be on top one minute, as low as possible the next. When
you're young, you don't realize it. But sooner or later you
learn--we all do. Be humble."
"My mouth is watering for that day when Rocker steps foot in
Shea once again. (This time I'm bringing D batteries.)"
--A posting by "Metswin" on www.rockersucks.com
With 104 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings John Rocker (left) was
among the elite group of flamethrowing National League closers
who earned their keep last season by blowing away batters. Here
are the five league leaders in strikeouts per nine innings
pitched (minimum 15 save opportunities).
CLOSER, TEAM K'S/9 IP
Billy Wagner, Astros 14.9
Armando Benitez, Mets 14.8
Matt Mantei, Diamondbacks 13.6
John Rocker, Braves 12.9
Ugueth Urbina, Expos 11.9