John Loy Rocker
- Bats Right, Throws Left
- Height 6' 4", Weight 225 lb.
- School Mercer University
- High School First Presbyterian Day High School
- Debut May 5, 1998
- Final Game May 14, 2003
- Born October 17, 1974 in Statesboro, GA USA
John Rocker managed to talk his way out of baseball after making horribly offensive racial remarks to the press throughout his career.
After being an 18th round choice by the Atlanta Braves in the 1993 amateur draft (the scout was Rob English), he had an excellent rookie season for the Braves in 1998, going 1-3 but with a 2.13 ERA in 47 games and striking out over a batter per inning. In the 1998 NLCS, he pitched 6 games without giving up a run to the San Diego Padres, winning one game, but the Braves were still upset by the Friars. In 1999, he was installed as the Braves' closer and had a superlative season, with a record of 4-5, 2.49 in 74 games, 38 saves and 104 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings. He did not give up an earned run in 10 postseason appearances and picked up 3 saves as the Braves made it to the 1999 World Series, which they lost to the New York Yankees. He appeared to be one of baseball's bright young stars at the time, owner of a tremendous fastball, and a "good-old-boy" personality with a tendency to run his mouth.
The magazine Sports Illustrated decided to run a feature on him after the 1999 season, and it caused a ruckus. In the article, he appeared like a completely bigoted man, constantly speaking in profanities and spouting hatred at women, minorities, gays and residents of New York City, among others. At the center of a media storm, Rocker was forced to apologize publicly, was warned by Major League Baseball about the damage he was causing to baseball's image, and forced to agree to undergo psychological counseling and drug testing. He was booed in every road ballpark, and the strain eventually affected his pitching. He was also suspended and fined, although the MLBPA filed a grievance and arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in Rocker's favor, reducing the suspension to 14 days and the fine from $20,000 to $500. He appeared in 59 games in 2000, and while his ERA was still good at 2.89 and he still struck out batters at a great rate, he only had 24 saves. He only pitched once in the NLDS as the Braves made an early exit from the postseason. The media circus would not die out however, as Rocker managed to regularly fan the flames anew by uttering more stupidities. By mid-2001, the Braves had had enough of the distraction he was causing, and shipped him off to the Cleveland Indians for Steve Karsay and Steve Reed on June 22nd. He was 2-2, 3.09 with 19 saves at the time, but completely fell apart in Cleveland. He only saved 4 more games the rest of the way, his ERA ballooned to 5.45 and his record was an ugly 3-7. He did pitch one scoreless inning in the ALDS, giving him a spotless ERA in 20 2/3 postseason innings over the course of his career. Still, the controversy would not die.
After the 2001 season, the Indians traded him to the Texas Rangers for Dave Elder. He pitched even worse in 2002, with an ERA of 6.66 in 30 games. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays gave him a last shot in 2003, but he gave up 2 hits and 3 walks in a single inning and was out of major league baseball for good. With the AA Orlando Rays, he walked 26 batters in 19 2/3 innings while giving up 23 runs. He tried a comeback with the independent Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League in 2005, but that didn't go any better. He walked 28 batters over 18 innings, put up a 6.50 ERA and was out of baseball for good.
But Rocker loved the limelight - which is why he never managed to keep his mouth shut and concentrate on pitching after his disastrous Sports Illustrated interview - and would regularly reappear in the news, as journalists knew they could count on him to give an outrageous quote or two. In December of 2011, while promoting a book, he admitted that he was using steroids in his early years with Atlanta, because "Let's be honest. Who wasn't (using steroids)?". He claimed that the drugs added a few mph to his fastball, but didn't help his breaking pitches and thus did not make him a better pitcher overall. He also claimed that MLB must have known about his transgression since he was being drug-tested at the time. However, it is likely that the testing was looking for recreational drugs only, not for steroids, which were hardly on the radar screen at the time, so it is not entirely surprising that he was not found out.
In an interview with USA Today, Rocker admitted to having a few regrets about his career: "I wish 37-year-old John Rocker could go back and punch 23-year-old John Rocker in his face." See this link.
- 30 Saves Seasons: 1 (1999)