News - Rocker a bye, baby

Cleveland gets custody of baseball’s problem child

That didn’t take long. Almost immediately after John Rocker arrived in Kansas City Saturday night to join the Cleveland Indians, assistant general manager Mark Shapiro decreed that Rocker was off-limits to the media until the team returned to Cleveland on June 29. Conveniently enough, the ban covers a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. This, supposedly, “to try to allow John to transition into the organization of the Cleveland Indians.”

At the same time, Indians manager Charlie Manuel was saying Rocker would be treated the same as any other player.

Boy, are they in for a rude awakening.

Cleveland gave the world George Steinbrenner and Don King, weathered Albert Belle, ignored the ballooning Shawn Kemp and welcomed the return of Kenny Lofton. But the good people of Cuyahoga County, home of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the WNBA Rockers, are about to discover that being home to this Rocker is even more embarrassing than having Lake Erie erupt in flames.

I would not expect Braves general manager John Schuerholz to say what he really thinks of John Rocker. That would be neither professional nor productive. But to insist that Rocker’s off-field performances had no bearing on the Braves’ willingness to trade him is so transparent as to be laughable. And one so hates to be laughing at the Braves esteemed GM. Especially when he is such a dapper guy.

(And speaking of fashion, Rocker arrived in Kansas City too late to dress for the game — a throwback game in which he would have been handed a replica uniform of the 1946 Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues.)

So take Schuerholz at his word if you want to. That means ignoring the fact that he traded away a fastball-throwing left-hander, one of the rarest, most coveted commodities in professional sports, a guy with the second-best record of any National League relief pitcher. Why? Why would he do that?

Because, despite the gaudy stats, Rocker was rocky in his ninth-inning mound appearances. A pitch sailing over the catcher’s head to the backstop was guaranteed. Walking at least one hitter was guaranteed. He threw a breaking ball at the oddest times. Which is to say any time he threw it. When you have a 97-mile-an-hour fastball, you bring it. End of story.

Rob Dibble, who made his name as one of the Nasty Boys when he teamed with Norm Charlton in Cincinnati’s bullpen and is now an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, says that being a reliever is all about attitude, not about stuff. He readily admits he was an immature jerk when he pitched. He was renowned for throwing tantrums on the field, including ripping his uniform off on the way to the dugout when he was angry about a poor performance. The key is, he was angry about his own poor performance. A volatile personality he may have been, but as a teammate, he was unselfish. It didn’t matter who got the save — Charlton or himself — it mattered only that the team got the win.

John Rocker was not traded because of his offensive comments in Sports Illustrated. He was not traded because he deliberately rammed into reporters in the clubhouse and pretended it was a joke. He was not traded because he blew the last game he pitched for the Braves.

But having done so, having lost the game for the team and the win for John Burkett, he did not have the maturity to take responsibility for it. He blamed infielders Quilvio Veras, Mark DeRosa and Rico Brogna for not turning the double play that would have gotten him out of the inning and added another save to his record. He could not acknowledge walking the tying run and giving up the game-winning two-run home run. Could not do it. That, in a nutshell, is why he finds himself in Cleveland today.

The Indians are about to find out how destructive his immaturity is. They will not despise him. The Braves didn’t; they ignored him. After a while, they didn’t notice the weight under which they labored every day. They notice it now that Steve Reed and Steve Karsay have breezed through the door, fitting right in and pitching scoreless innings.

Listen to what the Braves players are not saying. Not a single Brave is lamenting the trade. Not one.

hot shots/what’s hot in atlanta sports
Is this supposed to be a good thing? -- Thrashers draft pick Ilya Kovalchuk, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NHL draft, is said to be comparable to Eric Lindros.

Are the Braves at it again? -- The Turner Field batter’s box was a great deal larger on the left last Wednesday when the Marlins sent up a left-handed lineup against Greg Maddux.

Bad news for baseball viewers -- The suits at TBS love that center field camera angle ESPN is using. You know, the one that makes it impossible to tell what’s happening at home plate. That’s only pitching, hitting and run-scoring.

It really wasn’t about the money. For once. -- UGA baseball coach Ron Polk leaves to go back home to Mississippi State, where his name is on the baseball stadium. Yep, that’s a good enough reason to bolt halfway through his four-year contract.

Fantasy league -- Who would you rather have on your team: Shane Battier or any high school player?

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