When volatile Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker delivered a verbal assault on New Yorkers, "foreigners" and homosexuals in the pages of Sports Illustrated magazine recently, a lot of people thought he should have had his head examined.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig thinks so, too.
Major League Baseball announced yesterday that Selig has ordered the young pitcher to undergo a psychological evaluation before the Commissioner's Office determines whether he will be subject to disciplinary action for his politically incorrect comments.
"Mr. Rocker's recent remarks made to a national magazine reporter were reprehensible and completely inexcusable," Selig said in a prepared statement.
"I am profoundly concerned about the nature of those comments as well as by certain other aspects of his behavior. As a result, following consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, I have determined that Mr. Rocker will undergo a psychological evaluation, which I expect to be concluded expeditiously. At that time, I will take whatever additional action that I consider to be necessary."
Rocker has been making headlines since late last season, when his feud with New York Mets fans escalated into one of the dominant storylines of the playoffs. He was so outspoken and so willing to exchange words and gestures with the Shea Stadium crowd during the National League Championship Series that even his teammates grew tired of his act.
The Sports Illustrated article took the controversy to a new and disturbing level. Rocker's anti-New York diatribe and his mean-spirited description of the demographic makeup of a theoretical New York subway car produced a firestorm of criticism from teammates, Braves officials, gay rights advocates and politicians.
"It's the most hectic, nerve-wracking city," he said. "Imagine having to take the [No.] 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's just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to a 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."
He also said that the thing he dislikes most about New York "are the foreigners," and referred to one of his black teammates as "a fat monkey."
Major League Baseball suspended former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for making offensive comments about minorities, but Selig does not have the same sweeping power to discipline Rocker.
He can attempt to fine or suspend him, but any severe disciplinary action likely will be answered with a grievance by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Nevertheless, Selig delivered a strong repudiation of Rocker's behavior and hinted that further action might be forthcoming. Selig and Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin declined to comment beyond the prepared statement.
Though Selig indicated that he had consulted with representatives of the players' union, the announcement sparked a testy response from union general counsel Gene Orza.
Since Rocker was ordered to undergo a psychological examination, union officials felt that the situation should have been treated as a medical issue and kept confidential.
There is even some question whether the union will advise Rocker to submit to the evaluation.
"We did not authorize the release, nor do we necessarily agree with the characterization of the procedure being discussed concerning Mr. Rocker," Orza said.
Rocker's comments were met with such widespread dismay inside the Braves' organization that there has been speculation the club will attempt to deal him before Opening Day, though it seems unlikely that many teams would be willing to inherit such an organizational headache.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.