Originally created 03/02/00

Braves await Rocker's return, apology



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- During a meeting after Wednesday's Braves workout, several veteran players urged the team to give controversial relief pitcher John Rocker a chance to apologize and regain the club's respect when he arrives in camp today.

Most players seem willing to forgive him, though there's also an underlying sense of anger toward him in the clubhouse. Rocker is expected to address the team this morning before workouts begin.

"I wouldn't be surprised (if there are guys who won't forgive him)," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "It's not too hard to see if somebody is not sincere. He can issue all the apologies he wants, but we'll get a better sense of if he means it by how he acts after that."

Braves right fielder Brian Jordan said it is important that Rocker become a good teammate.

"John Rocker is just going to have to come in and blend in with the team," Jordan said. "He has to change his ways and control his anger."

"I think this is good all the way around," Braves reliever Rudy Seanez said. "Everybody is ready to get past it and move on."

Most players were more upset by Rocker's comments about teammates and the organization than by his remarks about gays, foreigners and minorities. He criticized shortstop Ozzie Guillen, called Randall Simon "a fat monkey" and described the atmosphere in the clubhouse as a "doctor's office."

"There's issues that go beyond everything that was said in the article," Glavine said. "He criticized our club and how we do things. He still has a lot of bridges to mend. We've said we're willing to give him that opportunity and we'll see what he does with it."

Simon said he was willing to forgive Rocker, if he apologizes to him.

"If he does that, I think it will all right," Simon said. "He made a mistake. We all make mistakes; we're not perfect. We have more things to worry about than this situation."

Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman, leader of a coalition of minority groups that has called for the Braves to release Rocker, also was unhappy with the decision.

"Hate and bigotry and homophobia and racism have a place, evidently, and that place is in major league baseball," he said.

Former National League president Len Coleman, who had been the sport's top minority official, echoed that view.

"Baseball must be a socially responsible institution," he said. "The arbitrator's ruling undermines the disciplinary system and sends precisely the wrong message."

The union wasn't happy, either. Players' association lawyer Gene Orza said "we are disappointed" the penalty wasn't reduced more.

"Obviously, we thought from the beginning that the penalty was excessive," union chief Donald Fehr said. "Hopefully, everybody understands what has happened and we can put closure on this issue."

Bobby Bonilla, a native New Yorker now playing for the Braves, said he could only recall one other incident that came close to creating the furor caused by Rocker's comments: Roberto Alomar spitting on an umpire in 1996.

"This is even bigger than that," Bonilla said. "It's not just when he goes back to New York. Wait until he gets to Cincinnati, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. This is not going to be isolated."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.