Originally created 03/02/00

Arbitrator cuts Rocker suspension, fine



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A spring training camp that had been quiet and relatively uneventful took on the appearance of a presidential whistle stop Wednesday.

The news that relief pitcher John Rocker's suspension had been cut in half by arbitrator Shyam Das and his ban from spring training lifted brought a flood of television crews and reporters to the Atlanta Braves camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

The scene will be repeated today when Mr. Rocker reports to camp after driving from his Atlanta-area home Wednesday afternoon.

"I think John realizes that he needs to mend his place on this team with his teammates," general manager John Schuerholz said. "His attitude will be watched as closely as all the rest of our players. We don't anticipate there will be a problem."

In addition to cutting Mr. Rocker's suspension from 28 days to the first 14 days of the regular season and allowing him to report to camp, Mr. Das also reduced his $20,000 fine to $500. He upheld the order for Mr. Rocker to attend sensitivity training.

"I think it's fair," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "It allows him some of spring training to get ready for the season. If not, you run the risk of John ruining his career. No one wants that. That would be unfair."

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig reacted angrily to Mr. Das' ruling, saying, "(The decision) does not reflect any understanding of or sensitivity to the important social responsibility that baseball, an institution that has endured for more than 100 years, has to the public. It completely ignored the sensibilities of those groups of people maligned by Mr. Rocker and disregards the player's position as a role model for children."

The Braves will close their clubhouse to the media this morning to allow Mr. Rocker some time to explain himself to his teammates. He is expected to hold a news conference before the morning workout starts at 10 a.m.

Mr. Rocker, 25, was suspended by Mr. Selig for all of spring training and the first month of the season for offensive remarks against gays, foreigners and minorities. In a grievance filed soon after Mr. Selig's Jan. 31 decision, the players' association argued the penalty was unprecedented and too severe.

Mr. Rocker will be eligible to pitch April 18 against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field, but Mr. Schuerholz indicated the left-hander might not be a Brave when the suspension ends.

"There has been interest (in Mr. Rocker) from other teams," Mr. Schuerholz said. "Whether he will be a Brave when the suspension is over, I can't answer that. I think we're going about this the right way.

"As an organization, we're going to see if John can make the kind of corrections that are expected, and we anticipate that's the case. This gives us an opportunity to assess how he and his teammates can come together as a cohesive unit again or not."

How Mr. Rocker is accepted by his teammates and whether he becomes a distraction will determine his immediate future.

"I'll look at him and say hi," catcher Eddie Perez said. "I don't know how he's going to deal with the other guys."

Most in the baseball world seemed satisfied that justice was served.

"I think if he really means his apology, that's good enough," said AL Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox. "I'm not standing up for him. Make that clear. I'm not standing up to defend him or whatever. I'm just not going to judge him."

Milwaukee pitcher David Weathers, speaking at the Brewers camp in Phoenix, said Rocker's "real penalty is going to come when he gets back among the players and has to face the guys in the clubhouse."

Another Milwaukee player, Jose Hernandez, was with the Braves part of last season. More than two months later, he still is stunned by Rocker's comments.

"Sometimes, you get frustrated in this game and somebody asks you something and you say the first thing in your mind," Hernandez said. "I don't know what happened, but it's sad. If I was with the Braves and he came in and apologized, I'd forgive him. He's still a friend."

Detroit Tigers manager Phil Garner said any punishment was likely to be criticized.

"On the one hand, what he said was horrible. But how do you punish something like that?" Garner asked. "No matter which extreme you go to, you're likely to offend some people. It's hard to find a middle ground."

New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, whose team was beaten by the Braves in the NL East race and the league championship series, said the ruling was fair and shouldn't have much impact on the regular season.

"It will be old news by the time it counts," he said. "Here's the news scoop -- they're a pretty good team without him."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.