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Music Cues: John Rocker
January 8, 2000

Scott Simon commentary on Major League Baseball's disciplinary actions against Atlanta Braves Pitcher John Rocker

Nobody is a jerk anymore. They just need counseling.

This week, Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, ordered Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker to undergoe psychological testing.

Mr. Rocker made some malicious remarks to a reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine last month, saying he would never play for a team in New York City, because he didn't want to ride a subway train to the ballpark in which he might have to rub up against gays, AIDS patients, and immigrants, Asian women and a black teammate.

Maybe the Braves keep Mr. Rocker in the bullpen because a doghouse is too small.

Commissioner Selig says he will wait on the test results before deciding whether to discipline Mr. Rocker. John Rocker made those comments, by the way, while driving the reporter around Atlanta. Has Mr. Rocker taken a look around his own city recently? The old Atlanta burned down on a Hollywood backlot. Atlanta today is proudly populated with African-Americans, immigrants, and one of the largest gay communities in America. A man who cannot recognize the ways in which his own city resembles New York is not seeing clearly -- except for the 17 inches across home plate.

Predicting the future in sports or the fame game is chancy; but the John Rocker story feels like something we've seen before. He will talk to a psychiatrist. He will confront his personal demons. He will give a couple of featured interviews, weep sincerely, apologize, and ask forgiveness. Decent human beings, including his teammates, will give it to him -- and get on with the game. The next time he takes the mound in New York, fans that used to boo John Rocker for his narrow-mindedness will applaud him for his manly embrace of soul-searching.

The story is so true, so beautiful -- and so neccessary if Mr. Rocker is to keep his lucrative career in baseball. But I wonder if "creative sentencing" wouldn't be more appropriate.

Pychiatrists are expensive. But for just a dollar and a half, Commissioner Selig can buy John Rocker a ride on the Queens Number Seven Flushing subway line that snakes above and just below the streets that stretch from Times Square out to Long Island City. Mr. Rocker could look down on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, as the Number Seven rattles over some of the most gorgeously varied human landscape in the world: Irish pubs and Columbian nightspots, Asian markets and Chinese herb shops, Indian sari stores, reggae record shops, Chasidic synagogues, and Mexican bakeries. Within just a few hours, John Rocker could do some extraordinary snacking, meet fascinating people, and, I suspect, feel perfectly safe. The riders on the Flushing line are used to seeing characters who are a lot odder than even John Rocker.