News - The Mad Dog and the problem child

Rocker, Maddux a study in contrast

Wondering what John Rocker has been up to this season? (Other than blowing saves for Kevin Millwood and Greg Maddux while collecting wins for both games, I mean.)

You may have heard that Rocker is still not speaking to the media after last season's turmoil when he failed to control his mouth off the field and failed to control his pitches on the mound. The Associated Press reported from spring training that he called the Atlanta media "ding-a-lings" and declared between off-key choruses of "Super Freak" that he would have nothing to say to us. ?

Nonsense. Why, just the other day, Rocker deliberately instigated a conversation with me. I was in the clubhouse talking to Kevin Millwood and Rico Brogna about the miserable pollen situation in Atlanta and how playing baseball here in damp, chilly April was still better than playing the Connecticut state football championship in 27-degree weather on Thanksgiving night. (OK, so not every clubhouse conversation is all that insightful.)?

As this was going on, Rocker crossed the room behind me and stopped at Millwood's locker. He said something to Millwood — what, I don't know, since I was listening to Brogna rave about Rafael Furcal's arm and, anyway, it wasn't my business. But it soon became my business when Rocker's jabbering grew louder. And louder. I realized that, although my back was turned to him, he was addressing me.?

"It's a wonder Kevin can pitch with his big feet," he announced, a broad grin on his face. He yammered on, "You know what they say about a man with big feet." Proud to have interrupted us with yet another display of his maturity, he jogged back across the clubhouse to his own locker.?

Later that night — after he had wild-pitched a run home; crossed up catcher Paul Bako (resulting in a passed ball); and flubbed fielding a ground ball, allowing the Marlins to tie the game and blowing a win for Maddux — Rocker was nowhere to be found. He's never around when it's time to take responsibility for a bad game.?

Then again, nobody misses him. Especially not when Maddux is talking about pitching.?

Luckily for Rocker, Maddux doesn't look at pitching the way other pitchers do. "It doesn't matter if I win, it matters that we win," said Maddux, shrugging off the no-decision after last week's eight-inning, 5-hit, no-walk, no-earned-run performance against the Marlins. "Results aren't what I'm about."?

He's about pitching, pure and simple. And has been since he was a sophomore at Valley High in Las Vegas. Ralph Medar, his pitching coach, taught him that movement was more important than velocity. They would go out every Sunday and throw two-seam and four-seam fastballs, Medar standing behind him, telling him which ball moved the most. That was the only concern he had.?

Medar taught Maddux the philosophy of pitching. The players who were serious about playing would show up on Sundays, like Marty Barrett, Red Sox, 1982-90. Barrett would step in there and Medar would have Maddux intentionally throw a ball.?

"You're so brainwashed as a pitcher that you've got to throw strikes," Maddux remembers, "and he was telling me to throw a ball. To set the hitter up to get a strike on the next pitch. Up-and-in sets up down-and-away. He was teaching me how to pitch without me even knowing it. He was teaching me how to set up hitters. That's the origin of my intentional unintentional walks.?

"Ralph Medar taught me how to throw pitches, but more important, he taught me how to use my pitches. He taught me the best pitch in baseball and I didn't even know it. He taught me that the best pitch is the moving fastball — the fastball that's not straight. That's what he taught me."?

So Maddux works brilliantly and has nothing to show for it. And Rocker screws up — again — and gets the win. That's baseball.?

Maybe one day Rocker will be one-tenth the pitcher Maddux is. He has toned down the charging-out-of-the-bullpen act, and when he doesn't spend a full minute jerking his head, neck and shoulders between pitches, he can throw strikes. But I haven't been able to check out the all-important key to pitching that Rocker just clued me in on: the size of his feet. They're always in his mouth.

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