Sinking like a Rocker

It's the first spring-training game of the season at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, which looks like a two-story Publix in a swanky neighborhood, and there seems to be no interest in John Rocker. No protesting or overheard conversation, and our neighbor in the stands has no reaction to the name at all. The hullabaloo over Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Rocker seems to have gone away, like when a drunk wakes up the next morning and mutters an apology for breaking that chair last night, and everyone in the house just says, "Hmmm," and goes back to their business, anxious to put the past in the past.

This is terribly disappointing to me. I don't like baseball, but I love an overwrought made-for-TV movie, and the feeling when Rocker came to town was a cross between seeing a celebrity and watching a dangerous criminal being moved from the county jail. Because of his big, dumb mouth and for being all over the news for having his penalties decreased (suspension cut in half, fine dropped from $20,000 to $500), he seemed like a potentially volatile entity who could do something else stupid any second, like a big zit that could pop all over the city with a kablam. The tension was delicious.

Strike out

More attention is probably the worst thing to give Rocker, anyway. The out-of-context quotes from a December Sports Illustrated article we all keep hearing make him sound like an opinionated oaf. If you go back and look at the text of the story, the guy -- at least at that point in his life and car -- sounds less pleasant to be around than a herd of dung beetles in their own environment. He spits a wad of phlegm on a toll machine ("I hate this toll" ), displays a chunky case of racist road rage ("Look at this idiot! I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman!" ) and really hates the cultural variety of New York ("I'm not a big fan of foreigners ... how the hell did they get in this country?" ). If you've ever been around guys who talk like this, all swagger and chest, so self-important that whatever they have to say is always takes precedence over how the next person feels, you know they make you feel bad and small and sour. They're not the devil. They're just totally unlikeable.

The easiest and most obvious response is the "see how you like it" path, which goes this way: Well, what do you expect from some redneck from Macon, Ga.? Of course they're scared of a diverse culture -- they never get out of the inbred one they came from. And a ballplayer, well, anyone with a neck that thick has a skull to match, you betcha. Jeez, even a circus animal knows how to perform in public. It's depressing. And he's 25. Kids are so stupid, and they can't drive. Ask an insurance agent.

See how easy it would be to boomerang the ugliness back? But, to paraphrase Mia Farrow, the low road is crowded. We'll go another way.

We all do dumb things, we all say mean things, we all get road rage. Most of us are lucky our massive bungles and our job performances aren't broadcast. Most of us would not only get fired, but we'd see that the "role model" ratio is pretty damn low among the general populace, of whom baseball players, politicians and actors -- all the people we want to be poster children for goodness -- are part. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, so you just be the role model and quit looking to everyone else to do it.

Throw them a curve

And though the Sports Illustrated story was mined with nasty feeling, one quote stood out, and it wasn't from Rocker. The reporter noted, "Like many Americans nowadays, Rocker is not one to look on the bright side. He likes to bitch and moan and shred things."

Ow. He's got a point. We find a lot to crabass about. A place that can graph their yearly shooting sprees can't be too emotionally healthy. If Rocker's stream of disgust, frustration and anger is even a fragmentary mirror of who we are -- and since he's such an all-American boy, maybe it is -- something is wrong at a deeper level than baseball. And it's only Rocker's fame that gave his comments air. You know how many people out there are saying things way worse that no one hears? Like guessing how many jellybeans in the glass jar, who knows? It's probably a whole lot.

At any rate, hopefully now that it's been pointed out to Rocker that being that judgmental is pointless and painful, it might sink in. In the meantime, it can't be easy to be John Rocker. A search I did looking for his comments pulled up several websites, one of the supportive ones being How would you like to be in that kind of company all of a sudden?

Well, you are. The site also lauded Florida's attempts to do away with affirmative action. Even a fragmented mirror can show you that the ugliness isn't always on the outside, where you're projecting it to be. And that's something not only John Rocker would do well to give a little thought to.

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