One-on-one with John Rocker

1:15 PM, Feb 6, 2012   |    comments
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Ex-Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker on the mound for Atlanta in 2001 (JAMES NIELSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

ATLANTA (WXIA) -- "Every pitch I ever threw, I threw as hard as I could, every single one."

Even as a little boy growing up in Statesboro, Ga., John Rocker threw so hard his young teammates refused to play catch with him. A highschool superstar drafted by the Atlanta braves, he became a powerful closer known for his intensity, his nostril flaring race to the mound, and his record.

PHOTOS | John Rocker then and now

He pitched in two national league championships and the world series, pitching 21 and a half scoreless playoff innings. But none of that is why people know John Rocker.

11Alive's Jaye Watson said to Rocker, "You have been described as a polarizing figure."

Rocker replied, "I think that's an understatement."

Watson asked, "Why do you think that is?"

Rocker answered, "Because I don't really have a strong internal characteristic of really needing to be liked."

If that's true, it's a good thing, because for a long time, John Rocker was one of the most reviled athletes in all of professional sports, because of one interview. In a December 2000 Sports illustrated interview Rocker's comments created a firestorm.

'The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners,' Rocker said. 'I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. How the hell did they get in this country?'

And when asked if he would play baseball in New York Rocker responded, 'Imagine having to take the number 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. It's depressing.'

The fallout was enormous. Rocker wasn't just hated by New York fans, he was hated. And he was mocked. And then late night television got hold of him, probably the most famous spoof was done by Will Ferrell as John Rocker on Saturday Night Live.

Rocker says of that time, "I felt like I was on display. I felt like I was in the zoo."

Rocker publicly apologized, but it did little to quell the controversy.

The book 'Scars and Strikes' is Rocker's attempt to set the record straight a dozen years later. He says he wrote 98 percent of the self published book himself and in it he puts forth his views on many things, including Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman, who Rocker says has a history of 'vilifying every subject he encounters.'

Jaye Watson asked, "Do you blame him completely for the article for you looking like a racist and a homophobe?"

"Absolutely," said Rocker.

Watson replied, "So none of it was your fault? Nothing that you said?"

Rocker answered, "If the article was 20 pages long and my long winded commentary had been included in its entirety, the opinion of me today would be drastically different."

Watson talked to Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman who said, 'Honestly I've always felt bad for the guy. He was suspended from baseball which he shouldn't have been. He was never given a second chance which he should have been.'

And proving that a decade hasn't made him any less outspoken, Rocker uses his book to make clear his views on immigrants. He writes that he welcomes those who are legal, who want to assimilate, learn english and adapt to american culture. But he also says, "If you are that kind of immigrant that comes here, looking to exploit, looking to take advantage, not looking at any way shape or form to endear yourself to this great country. I don't appreciate you."

Rocker launched a 'Speak English' campaign, t shirts included. He said a trip to Miami frustrated him. "I went to a Starbucks, tried to simply order coffee. The person was literally insisting I order my coffee in spanish. I was like 'I could do it', but I'm not going to."

Rocker also says, "To really receive and achieve the absolute properity that America can offer you and fulfill the american dream, you can't do it unless you speak english."

As for claims he is racist, Rocker says many of his closest friends are from around the world and points out that he dated an african american woman for three years.

There is another confession in Rocker's book, that during the scandal he was on steroids. He says they didn't change his personality - that the fiery brash attitude was all him.

"I just think being a young dumb kid. Just being a hotheaded kid that got to play baseball in front of millions of people every night and was doing pretty well at it, it got my ego a little overinflated."

Rocker says steroids helped him recover more quickly between games and that he wasn't the only Brave using them.

"Probably just off the top of my head, probably eight to ten guys in that Braves house I know factually and one or two more that I'm not sure of. It's the kind of thing if you weren't doing it, it's like bringing a knife to a gun fight. I'm not going to climb on top of the mound, look 60 feet away at Mark Maguire knowing good and well what he's doing. I'm not going to climb up there short handed. I'm going to have all six bullets in my gun because I know he does. When the game is over and the three run homer is in the seats you can't make excuses."

But those quotes from that one interview a dozen years ago, Rocker says they're resurrected and regurgitated so often they've prevented him from moving on with his life.

"How many more times can you say you're sorry, you apologize? 'It was misunderstood, I'm not like this, blah blah blah.' The more you say it the less impact it has."

Today, Rocker's life is in real estate. "I've developed probably $100 million worth of projects, apartment buildings, single family attached townhomes, things like that."

And just when it seems Rocker's out of the limelight comes Eastbound and Down, an HBO series about a bigoted, washed up major league pitcher. Rocker acknowledges, "It's about me. It is. The guy wears 49, is a Braves pitcher, he's a bit of a hothead, it's kind of obvious."

So while the inspired version of Rocker lives on in Hollywood, John Rocker's real life is pretty low key. He is dating someone, says he wants children some day, that he rarely watches baseball anymore, but that he misses the camaraderie, and his fellow players. And even after everything, even with a long shadow cast over his career, John Rocker is defiantly a major league ball player to the end.

"On the day that I leave this earth I will still be a major league baseball player. It will always be a part of me at my core and it will always be a defining characteristic in my life."

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