Neither the impending Christmas holiday nor an apology from Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker seem to have made much of a difference in the controversy over Rocker's published comments disparaging ethnic minorities and homosexuals. People are angry, and they are just getting angrier.
Although most officials with the Braves and with Major League Baseball have closed their offices and decreed the issue on hold until disciplinary meetings can be held in the first week of January, 15 protesters gathered outside Turner Field yesterday, demanding that the Braves cut or trade Rocker.
Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman said he would introduce a resolution condemning the Braves' closer next month.
Even Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, a Braves senior vice president, lashed out, telling a radio talk show host he felt "sick, absolutely sick" upon hearing Rocker's comments.
"I played for 23 years and had everything under the sun happen to me, like most black players," Aaron said yesterday on a syndicated Chicago radio show. "But never has anything happened to me that made me feel like I did reading that in Sports Illustrated.
"I thought we had passed the stage where things like that were no longer tolerated."
As Atlanta's closer, Rocker, 25, has earned a reputation for his emotional on-field performances, his fiery locker room comments and his hatred for New York, especially the rival Mets.
Other athletes have denigrated New York and its teams, but none has made the kind of comments attributed to Rocker in a story in this week's Sports Illustrated.
Rocker, who spat at a toll booth while being interviewed for the story, said he would "retire first" before playing in New York. "Imagine taking the [No.] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [in] Beirut 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."
Rocker, who is white and from Georgia, continued that "the biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. 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 in this country?"
On Wednesday, both Commissioner Bud Selig and Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz condemned Rocker's comments and promised a disciplinary review in the first week of January.
Rocker could be fined or suspended by the league, the team or both, and there has been a growing sentiment around Atlanta--including from a few of his own teammates--that Rocker should be traded.
Both right fielder Brian Jordan and pitcher Tom Glavine criticized Rocker publicly, with Jordan suggesting Rocker be dealt and Glavine suggesting Rocker will face "some angry people" in the clubhouse if he does return.
In response, Rocker issued an apology Wednesday, acknowledging making the comments but adding that "even though it might appear otherwise from what I have said, I am not a racist. I should not have said what I did because it is not what I believe in my heart."
Selig's office declined to comment further on the situation yesterday.
Schuerholz left Atlanta to spend the holiday with family in Kansas.
On Wednesday, Schuerholz tried to distance the team from Rocker, saying, "He works for us, but in no way do the comments, attitude and feelings represent those of the Atlanta Braves."
Still, Atlanta spokesman Jim Schultz said yesterday that the Braves' switchboard has been inundated with phone calls, "95 percent of them very shocked, offended and appalled."
CAPTION: John Rocker has apologized for recent statements, but some Braves teammates say he should be traded.