John Rocker pitched a 1-2-3 inning at Shea Stadium Thursday night in his much-anticipated return to New York. He was booed loudly by the New York fans he'd called "stupid" during the playoffs last year, but there were no other incidents. His Atlanta Braves won the game 6-4 to extend their lead over the Mets to three games in the National League East.
Before the game, Rocker, appearing contrite, read a handwritten statement he said he'd composed on hotel stationery earlier in the day. He said he was happy to be back in New York, "believe it or not," and apologized for remarks in Sports Illustrated in December that were insulting to gays, welfare mothers, people with purple hair, foreigners and just about everybody who read them.
"I have apologized and have felt badly for anyone who took my comments personally," he said. "My comments weren't made with the intentions of malice. However, many people perceived these comments to be malicious, and for this, again I apologize."
He said he'd been judged too harshly, that he's really a pretty good guy and that, hey, New Yorkers are pretty OK too -- "extremely charismatic and full of personality," was how he put it, "although a bit spirited at times, but that doesn't make them bad people." Rocker's statement was shown on Shea Stadium's video screen well before the start of the game.
Here's a sampling of what the local (and national) blats were saying about Rocker as he came to town:
"Shea Fans Get Ready for Braves' Ku Klux Kloser"
-- Headline, New York Post
"Rocker's City Far From Perfect/Macon Has Its Share of Crime, AIDS"
-- Headline, Newsday
"Dear Dimwit: On behalf of all purple-haired teenagers, unwed mothers with crying babies, foreign-speaking people and queers (your words), welcome back ... You didn't make peace with your Atlanta teammates, one of whom called you a 'cancer.' You've clashed with us 'bleeping' reporters, and physically threatened the one from Sports Illustrated who had the nerve to write exactly what you told him. You've used the adulation provided by some misguided and sympathetic fans to basically say: See? I'm not the scoundrel you 'bleeping' reporters make me out to be."
-- Shaun Powell, Newsday, in Thursday's paper
"Somewhere between the trip from Montreal, where the Braves played the previous night, and the arrival at the team's Manhattan hotel, Rocker found a brain."
-- Powell, in Friday's paper
"Everything else has been a lead-in to this. Rocker's scraps with the media, his momentary banishment to the bushes, the scorn heaped upon him in other stadia. Preliminaries. The patrons of Shea Stadium now take center stage, many with the temperament of having had a red flag waved in their face. They are mad, but will that lead to madness? It is a most unfortunate focus for a series that should be so tasty."
-- Mike Lopresti, USA Today, Thursday
"He is 6 feet 4 inches, but he may as well have been 80 feet tall last night, the way his presence loomed over the field like the billboard snaking up the light tower behind the Shea Stadium bleachers.
"Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker -- two years in the majors, 25 on the planet -- was the reason a combined total of more than 1,000 reporters and police officers showed up for a June ball game. And he was the man 46,998 fans most wanted to see."
-- Tyler Kepner, New York Times, Friday
"Bearbaiting having been abolished and pigsticking being currently out of fashion, the public still needs spectacles, preferably vulgar and ominous ...
"Casey Stengel used to say that every day in baseball you see something you never saw before (a pretty strong statement for a man who managed until he was 75), but it is quite possible nobody had ever seen a player's mixture of mea culpa and nolo contendere beamed from a message board ...
"The potential for trouble will stay around all weekend, but maybe outright brutality has been averted at the cost of massive police overtime. There's got to be a better way to react to a few dumb remarks."
-- George Vecsey, New York Times, Friday
"John Rocker says, 'First of all, I would like to say that I'm happy to be back in New York, believe it or not.' I say, 'Yeah, and Darva Conger looks better with her clothes on' ...
"John Rocker says, 'Now I will put this situation behind me.' I say, 'I am fed up to here with athletes who get themselves in trouble and think they can make it go away by saying they've "put this situation behind me." It doesn't work like that. You screwed up. If you think people are going to forgive and forget simply because you want to "put the situation behind you," think again. You'll be paying for your stupidity for a long time to come, and rightly so. You're still around this game because you can heave the pill at 99 miles an hour, not because you've convinced one single soul that you've rehabilitated your views about gays, minorities and New Yorkers.'"
-- Michael Knisley, the Sporting News