Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig yesterday ordered Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker to undergo psychological testing, and will use the findings to decide whether to take disciplinary action against Rocker, who made disparaging remarks about homosexuals, minorities, immigrants and AIDS victims in a Sports Illustrated article last month.
"Mr. Rocker's recent remarks made to a national magazine reporter were reprehensible and completely inexcusable," Selig said in a statement released yesterday. "I am profoundly concerned about the nature of those comments as well as by certain other aspects of his behavior.
"As a result, following consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, we have determined that Mr. Rocker will undergo a psychological evaluation, which I expect to be concluded expeditiously. At that time, I will take whatever additional action that I consider to be necessary."
Selig did not return calls yesterday seeking further comment. However, the Braves said Rocker's evaluations will begin in the next few days.
The Braves held a news conference late yesterday afternoon to say they would not impose any punishment beyond what the commissioner hands down, but that they expected some disciplinary action.
"It's important that John gets right with the organization, his teammates and the community," Braves President Stan Kasten said. "But we at least need to give the man an opportunity to demonstrate his heartfelt remorse and correct the problem."
Kasten admitted his first inclination, upon hearing about Rocker's comments but before speaking to him, was to release him. However, Rocker apparently changed Kasten's mind in a meeting last week with him and Braves General Manager John Schuerholz.
Releasing Rocker "continues to be an option," Kasten said. But he said Rocker "has expressed a great deal of remorse immediately and hasn't backed away from that at all, and he has accepted the responsibility and sought help. And under those circumstances, I'm not going to abandon a player or an employee."
Rocker, 25, did not comment yesterday and did not appear at the Braves' news conference. His quotes to Sports Illustrated--in which Rocker, among other things, called a black teammate a "fat monkey"--launched a hailstorm of outrage around baseball and in his home state of Georgia. He was criticized publicly by Braves teammates and front-office personnel, as well as by politicians, columnists and the general public.
Rocker has since apologized and insisted he is not a racist.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, which believes in keeping players' medical reports confidential, declined to comment yesterday, according to spokesman Greg Bouris.
However, associate general counsel Gene Orza, the union's number two leader, told the Associated Press, "We did not authorize the release [of information pertaining to Rocker], nor do we necessarily agree with the characterization of the procedure being discussed concerning Mr. Rocker."
Rocker, who saved 37 games for the Braves in 1999, first catapulted into the spotlight during the Braves' march to the World Series in October.
His on-the-field intensity and off-the-field sparring with New York Mets fans at first endeared him to some fans.
However, Rocker's animated exchanges with Mets fans during the National League Championship Series turned increasingly hostile--with verbal insults, obscene gestures and objects being hurled at him from the stands--and Rocker's teammates distanced themselves from him, criticizing Rocker privately.
Since the Sports Illustrated article appeared, many members of the team, including pitcher Tom Glavine and pitching coach Leo Mazzone, have openly lambasted Rocker, questioning whether Rocker can still function as a member of the team.
CAPTION: Braves relief pitcher John Rocker must undergo psychological testing.