Former Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker was not a New York Mets fan. He was accused of being racist, homophobic, and sexist after his infamous Jan. 2000 Sports Illustrated interview, but it is sometimes forgotten that he also expressed his feeling about the Mets and their fans.
“Nowhere else in the country do people spit at you, throw bottles at you, throw quarters at you, throw batteries at you and say, ‘Hey, I did your mother last night ‘” she’s a whore.’ I talked about what degenerates they were and they proved me right.”
When Rocker made his first appearance at Shea Stadium on June 29, more than 700 police officers were at the ball park instead of the usual 60.
There were limits on beer purchases and there was a protective cover over the Atlanta Braves bullpen.
Rocker had made a videotape in which he apologized to the Mets. When it was shown before the game, the fans booed. What did he expect?
In the eighth inning, Rocker took over for Braves starter Jason Marquis. He was booed lustily, some objects were thrown onto the field, and a chant using a popular term for one’s anus started.
After the game, Rocker left Shea Stadium one-half hour before the rest of the team in a black van that was accompanied by three security vehicles.
John Rocker was not always so extreme, but he was always an unusual baseball player.
When he was in the rookie league, his teammates would watch him warm up in order to see how he would react if his fastball weren’t fast enough or his curve ball lacked the necessary bite.
Kevin Millwood told reporter Carroll Rogers about an incident when he and Rocker were teammates at Danville, Virginia.
“One time he started biting the ball. When the catcher would throw the ball back to him, he just let it hit him in the chest. He’d wing one over the outfield fence. All in one day.”
During Rocker’s fourth minor league season in 1997, he became a relief pitcher for Durham. Rocker, who considered himself a starter, had never pitched in a league higher than Class A. He was not pleased with his new role.
“I felt like I was on the back burner. I didn’t feel like I was a very important part of the staff. I was down and out and pitching mad all the time.”
Yes, John Rocker was always the John Rocker who hated New York, and especially the Mets.
He was so upset about being moved to the bullpen that he was ready to pack it in and go home to Macon, but Durham pitching coach Jerry Nyman was instrumental in talking Rocker out of such a move.
He told Rocker that to make the best of it and to try to learn from it. Rocker’s career continued.
One must wonder if Nyman ever regretted his actions.
Rocker thrived as a relief pitcher. He joined the Braves in 1998, posting a 2.13 ERA and allowing only 22 hits in 38 innings as a set-up man. He struck out 42 batters.
During spring training in 1999, Rocker told reporters that he had learned how to handle his intensity.
“I’ve learned to channel it in different ways now. I still get a little fired up. Now I can pitch angry. I used to not be able to do that. I used to try to throw every pitch 120 and (would) sail it to the backstop. Now I can pitch aggressive and still have an idea of what I’m doing out there.”
In March, 1999 Rocker claimed that he had his “intensity” under control. In December, Rocker illustrated how well he had learned to control his intensity in his sports magazine interview.
Rogers, Carroll. “Rocker’s attitude mastery key to his breakthrough; Internal struggle successful: Braves reliever has overcome low point in minors, when he nearly quit baseball.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution [Atlanta, GA] 3 Mar. 1999: F3. Custom Newspapers. Web. 12 July 2011.