Rocker's Best Pitch: Learning How to Shut Up

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Following are quotes excerpted from a Sports Illustrated profile of Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker in SI's Dec. 22 issue. (The Atlanta Braves, Sports Illustrated and TIME Daily are all components of their parent company, Time Warner).

On the way people in Atlanta drive: "Look! Look at this idiot! I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman."

On New York City: "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

On playing for a New York team: "I would retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 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."

On prejudice: "I'm not a racist or a prejudiced person. But certain people bother me."

Well, where's Crash Davis when you need him? The hero of the baseball pic "Bull Durham" was given the task of mentoring a young pitcher named Nuke LaLoosh on how to break into the big leagues. On the eve of Nuke's promotion, Crash coaches him in dealing with the media:

Crash: "You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down, 'We gotta play it one day at a time.'"
Nuke: "It's pretty boring."
Crash: "'Course it's boring; that's the point. Write it down."

In the absence of such a mentor, the 25-year-old Rocker has, in just his second year, made himself the most quoted baseball player this side of Yogi Berra. He's also self-destructed.

The unifying power of Rocker's quotables was felt as soon as the article was published, as friends and foes alike found common ground in calling for disciplinary action. Mark Bradley, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had this message for the Braves: "Don't send him to sensitivity training. Don't enroll him in anger-management class. Don't fine him. Don't even suspend him. Get rid of him."

This message isn't lost on the Braves, who released a statement distancing themselves from the pitcher and said they'll later review what action to take. A similar statement was made by league commissioner Bud Selig. Rocker's own pitching coach, Leo Mazzone, went as far as to say, "Something's going to go wrong now with his career. And you watch it, it'll end up going straight down the tubes."

Rocker offered something of an apology, which opened with the statement "My emotions fuel my competitive zeal. I have gone way too far in my competitive zeal." Huh? Short of a full-scale apology for his remarks about foreigners, it's hard to imagine Rocker sharing any sort of rapport next year with the man who'll be calling his pitches — Puerto Rico native Javy Lopez.

But the most amazing thing about Rocker's remarks, at least from a New Yorker's perspective, is that they gave Gothamites something they thought they'd never see: an issue that rival Senate candidates Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton can agree on — that there's no place in America's game for John Rocker.