- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2000

If Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker had been savvy enough to reserve his verbal spitballs for any but the politically preferred groups he actually hit, he could have saved himself from all the controversy now swirling about him.

He could, for example, have mocked Christians by saying that the Ten Commandments were out of date. He could have compared the faithful to the 39 suicidal admirers of the Hale-Bopp comet. He could have joked he would say to Pope John Paul II, "Ever seen a Polish mine detector?" Ho, ho, ho. And the lords of baseball wouldn't have said a word to him. Atlanta Braves' owner Ted Turner said all these things, and baseball officials yawned and went on with the game.

But no, Rocker wasn't smart enough to follow his boss' lead. Instead, in a now-infamous interview with Sports Illustrated he hit politically preferred groups, saying of New York: "It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the (No.) 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're (riding through) Beirut, next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."

He was also less than complimentary about the city's ethnic makeup. "I'm not a very big fan of foreigners," he said. "You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get into this country?"

Because of his offensive remarks, Baseball Commissioner Bug Selig sidelined Rocker for some 30 days at the beginning of the season, fined him $20,000 and sent him off to "sensitivity training." Really. Apparently with the complete approval of Atlanta Braves officials, Mr. Selig wants Rocker retrofitted with new, improved attitudes towards persons with purple hair, AIDS victims and criminals. The implication is that anyone who doesn't share the commissioner's views must either be re-educated to eliminate his ignorance or retrained in the political equivalent of Miss Manners.

Not only is this sentence inconsistent with the league's handling of Mr. Turner, it is inconsistent with more serious controversies in seasons past. When San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal turned around and clubbed Dodger catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat in 1965, the league suspended the pitcher for nine days. More recently, former Baltimore Oriole Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire; that led to his suspension for five days. John Rocker didn't do anything to people other than insult them. Which was the more serious offense here?

In a better place, the John Rockers of the world would spare AIDS victims, criminals, persons with purple hair and Christians this kind of invective. It's small-minded, ugly and ill-mannered. Invective usually is. But sanctimonious, selective punishments aren't necessarily the solution either. Teams have plenty of ways to send a message to disagreeable people. When broadcaster Jim Gray conducted a needlessly hostile interview with Pete Rose during last year's All Star game, members of the New York Yankees not-so-subtly refused to give him interviews. End of problem. By introducing speech codes into baseball, Mr. Selig may find he has created a new problem rather than eliminating one.

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