John Rocker is something akin to a car wreck. He elicits the same feelings you’d have in driving off the dealer’s lot in a brand new muscle car. There’s so much sex appeal, potential and power. But mishandle it and you’ll crash into the concrete dividing wall on the Downtown Connector. And then, thousands of motorists will slowly pass by, rubber-necking and sneaking a peek when they really shouldn’t. Even if they wanted to, they can’t look away. It’s a car wreck after all.
That analogy pretty much sums up Rocker and his failed career in Major League Baseball (MLB). But the car wreck resurfaced on Monday, when Rocker offered his own version of the Straight Talk Express. John McCain’s got nothing on this former pro baseball jock.
Rocker pulled no punches during an appearance on “Buck and Kincade” on 680 The Fan. During the interview, Rocker comes out – finally – as a player who used steroids, flunked a drug test and knew of others who did the same. He explains why he did it:
“That 22-, 23-year-old brain of mine, I was desperate to become a big league ball player. I could have pitched. I could not have been the force I turned out eventually to be for a few years there. I could have been an eighth or ninth man on the staff and been an adequate, competent pitcher. … I like to swing for the fences and if I can’t be the best, I don’t want to do it at all.”
Rocker was implicated in the Mitchell Report last year, but his spokesperson at the time downplayed, but didn’t deny, allegations in the report that Rocker received two prescriptions for human growth hormone between April and July 2003, well after the Braves dumped him.
The downfall of the former Braves pitcher started after his comments in late 1999 to a Sports Illustrated reporter ranting against several minority groups:
“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, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids,” Rocker said.
On Monday, Rocker admitted to using steroids while with the Braves in 2000. Keep in mind that baseball didn’t have a testing agreement between management and the players’ union until September 2002 and didn’t begin random resting with penalties until 2004. So essentially, players were free to juice whenever they desired.
But what’s most interesting about Rocker’s revelation this week is the timing. After his offensive rants in late 1999, gay rights activists – and others – in Atlanta protested loudly, further embarrassing a team that works hard to maintain a squeaky clean image. MLB suspended Rocker, though the time out was shortened after a disciplinary hearing. The Braves took their time in eventually releasing Rocker.
Rocker said on Monday that Bud Selig, MLB’s commissioner, ordered him to take a drug test after his public rant to Sports Illustrated, a detail that hasn’t emerged until this week. Rocker didn’t have to, but his agent advised that taking the test might help soften the punishment the league was going to dish out for his comments, he said this week. Rocker did end up with a shortened suspension to start the 2000 season.
“I consented, took it and failed it. The league, which Bud Selig is the commissioner of, ordered the test, failed the test. In the year 2000, John Rocker took the juice and he didn’t do anything about it,” Rocker said Monday.
So Rocker was on the juice when he ranted to Sports Illustrated, another fact that wasn’t publicly known until this week. It was curious in 2000 that the Braves didn’t quickly move to dump Rocker after his infamous comments, as he ignited a national firestorm. It’s now becoming clear that the Braves were less concerned about his comments than they were with his steroid use. Rocker got dumped not for offending people with AIDS, queers and immigrants, but for using steroids.
Shame on the Braves for portraying their actions any other way. They gained points with gay activists and other community leaders for finally getting rid of Rocker, even after keeping him in a Braves uniform to start the 2000 season. But it’s now clear that they did the right thing for the wrong reason. Put another way, they fired Rocker not for what he said but for what he did behind closed doors, which at the time, was allowable under MLB rules.
Also in the appearance this week, Rocker said that when he took the drug test in 2000, he met the testing administer in the men’s locker-room of L.A. Fitness in Buckhead near the intersection of Piedmont and Peachtree roads, a place pretty popular with the gay folks he so easily offended a few months earlier. (That location is the setting for a lawsuit filed by a gay attorney in Atlanta.)
Rocker also said that without the Mitchell Report, he never would have come clean publicly about his steroid use:
“I didn’t make enough impact on the game, I was never a major award winner like that to warrant some huge explanation. I’m not going to be scoop fodder for the lucky journalist of the day that I happen to open up to. I’m not going to be that guy.”