- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

NEW YORK Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker was suspended yesterday from spring training and the first month of the baseball season for remarks he made last year about foreigners, homosexuals and minorities.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rocker until May 1, fined him $20,000 and ordered him to undergo sensitivity training. The suspension is the longest for an action not related to drug use since Lenny Randle of Texas got 30 days in March 1977 for punching his manager.
Rocker, who apologized for the remarks in January, said he is considering an appeal and objected to the severity of the punishment.
"I do not believe it is appropriate that I should be harshly disciplined for my misguided speech unaccompanied by any conduct on my part," Rocker said in a statement released by his agents. "I have previously apologized for my unfortunate remarks and stand by my apology."
The players' union said it expects to file a grievance, which would be heard by an independent arbitrator.
"We have been in consultation with Mr. Rocker, and it is our present intention to appeal," said Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. "It is literally unprecedented to impose a penalty on a player for pure speech, offensive though the speech may be. That, coupled with the magnitude of the penalty, just as unprecedented, makes us optimistic about the outcome of the appeal."
Selig cited the "dishonor" Rocker brought upon baseball in explaining the punishment.
"Major League Baseball takes seriously its role as an American institution and the important social responsibility that goes with it," Selig said.
"We will not dodge our responsibility. Mr. Rocker should understand that his remarks offended practically every element of society and brought dishonor to himself, the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball. The terrible example set by Mr. Rocker is not what our great game is about and, in fact, is a profound breach of the social compact we hold in such high regard."
With the season to start April 3, the suspension technically is to last 28 days. The suspension will not affect his salary, expected to be between $200,000 and $300,000. The 25-year-old pitcher was barred from joining the Braves at spring training, which opens Feb. 17.
Rocker may go to extended spring training starting April 3 and will be allowed to pitch in the minor leagues during the first month of the season.
Rocker's comments stemmed from a feud with New York fans that ran throughout the playoffs last season. Rocker said he was frustrated by Mets fans who spit in his face and poured beer on him during the National League Championship Series and by Yankees fans who threw batteries at him during the World Series
During the playoffs, the pitcher called New York fans "stupid" and "a tired act."
After the season, a Sports Illustrated reporter asked Rocker about the feud.
Rocker responded by saying he would never play for a New York team because he didn't want to ride a subway train next to "some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing." He also said, "I'm not a very big fan of foreigners… . How the hell did they get in this country?"
Rocker's comments drew a strong response from Braves executive Hank Aaron and minority and homosexual groups.
The pitcher was ordered by Selig on Jan. 6 to undergo psychological tests, but the results of those tests have not been disclosed.
Braves owner Ted Turner has said Rocker deserves a second chance and pointed out the reliever had apologized.
"I don't think we ought to hold it against him forever," Turner said. "He didn't commit a crime."
Braves President Stan Kasten said he hopes Rocker will not appeal and will let the punishment run its course.
"We believe that even after this process is complete, there are still two hurdles that remain," Kasten said. "John still has to reconcile himself with his teammates. After that, he has to reconcile himself with the community. It's not automatic. But with the right effort and the right attitude, I think it's possible."
Rocker told ESPN last month that he had lost his cool and said things he didn't mean about New York fans because he wanted to "inflict some emotional pain in retaliation to the pain that had been inflicted on me."

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