In Rocker aftermath, common sense prevails

On Baseball

March 05, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Did arbitrator Shyam Das do the right thing when he sharply reduced the disciplinary measures that were levied against loose-lipped relief pitcher John Rocker?

That's a matter of opinion, but Das showed some Solomon-like wisdom when he cut Rocker's 28-day suspension to two weeks, reduced his fine from $20,000 to $500 and allowed him to report to spring training.

Rocker probably shouldn't have been subject to any severe institutional discipline for exercising his constitutional right to free speech, but Das obviously recognized that he would be creating a larger problem -- and doing Rocker a disservice -- by entirely striking down the disciplinary measures imposed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

The public backlash after Rocker's idiotic diatribe against gays, foreigners and minorities made it imperative that baseball make a show of punishing him, and Rocker's chances of ever putting the ugly situation behind him depended on him submitting to some kind of significant disciplinary action.

Maybe that was the lesson learned from the Roberto Alomar spitting incident. The light penalty (a five-game suspension) levied against the then-Orioles second baseman for spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck only made it more difficult for him to rebuild his tarnished image.

If Rocker serves his suspension contritely and works hard to project a more likable image, he has a chance to separate himself from this controversy the way Alomar eventually rose above the tawdry incident with Hirschbeck.

Smoltz on target

Congratulations to Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz for adding some perspective to the political hysteria that has developed around Rocker. Smoltz blasted an Atlanta clergyman for demanding in an ESPN interview that the Braves trade their problem pitcher.

"That's sad to hear," Smoltz told The Sun on Thursday. "I'm assuming that reverend is part of a church, and I'm hoping that's not how he handles a problem in his church, by sending the person to another church. I'm not perfect and I'm not calling on him to be perfect, but he has a higher calling."

It's about time someone had the courage to challenge the hypocrisy of some of the grandstanders who are using Rocker's comments to get time on television. Smoltz, a religious man, shouldn't have had to give a Christian clergyman a lesson in the blessed nature of forgiveness, but it's nice that someone had the nerve to stand up and point out such a glaring philosophical inconsistency.

Where to now?

Though the Braves have indicated that they have no immediate plans to trade Rocker, that could change if the fallout from his ill-advised remarks lingers well into the season.

Lost in the frenzy of Thursday's forgivefest were the whispers that Rocker was not a particularly popular guy in the Braves clubhouse even before he became baseball's poster boy for political incorrectness.

Many of his veteran teammates had grown weary of him during the waning weeks of last season because of his penchant for pointing the finger at other players after a disappointing performance, and also for his apparent lack of self-control dealing with Shea Stadium hecklers during the playoffs.

Diversity 101

The Braves players and coaching staff took part in a diversity/team-building seminar on Tuesday as part of the club's attempt to avoid future displays of intolerance by team personnel. Ironically enough, Rocker was not eligible to attend because he still was under suspension.

"We felt it was the appropriate thing to do with the circumstances around our team this winter," general manager John Schuerholz said. "I think it was beneficial to everybody."

Howard Ross and former NFL star Mike Singletary were hosts for the session.

"I think everybody got something out of it," Chipper Jones said.

Safety first

Former Orioles reliever Jim Corsi showed why they put a screen up in front of the mound during batting practice. He was hit by a line drive the other day at the Arizona Diamondbacks' spring camp in Tucson, Ariz., after choosing to pitch without the protective barrier.

Corsi apparently wanted to simulate real-game conditions, but instead suffered a concussion when he was hit on the top of the head by the lined shot.

The same day, former Orioles reliever Mike Fetters suffered a quadriceps strain at the Los Angeles Dodgers' camp in Vero Beach, Fla.

Could there be another Orioles bullpen jinx? Sure was last year.

Garciaparra injured

Boston Red Sox star Nomar Garciaparra's latest spring injury (a slightly sprained knee ligament) has raised questions about the additional bulk he has put on over the past few years.

Garciaparra weighed about 160 pounds when he was an up-and-coming minor-league player in 1995. He reported to camp this spring weighing closer to 195 after another winter of intense physical training.

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