KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves are willing to forgive John Rocker. Can they forget?
Rocker was cleared to join his teammates at spring training today after an independent arbitrator cut the reliever's suspension in half, ruling he should sit out the first 14 days of the regular season for his offensive statements regarding gays, minorities and foreigners.
In addition, Rocker's $20,000 fine was cut to $500.
While the decision by baseball's new arbitrator, Shyam Das, brought finality to the disciplinary part of the process, Rocker's toughest task is mending relationships in the clubhouse.
Teammates have grumbled privately that his bombastic, self-centered persona was annoying even before his comments in Sports Illustrated.
''He has to be more mature dealing with certain situations and dealing with his teammates,'' said outfielder Brian Jordan, one of Rocker's most vocal critics. ''He's got to learn to control his anger.''
Commissioner Bud Selig, who imposed the harsher penalty on Jan. 31, said the ruling by Das ''completely ignores the sensibilities of those groups of people maligned by Mr. Rocker and disregards the player's position as a role model for children.''
Selig banned Rocker from all 45 days of spring training and the first 28 days of the season for his comments in Sports Illustrated. Rocker and the players association asked the arbitrator to overturn the decision, saying it was out of line with past sanctions.
Rocker planned to be at the Braves' training complex, just south of Orlando, for a private meeting with his teammates prior to Atlanta's first exhibition game today. He also was scheduled to hold a news conference, though it wasn't clear if he planned to take questions or simply make a statement.
''He can issue all the apologies he wants. That's the easy thing to do,'' teammate Tom Glavine said. ''But we'll see if he means it by how he acts every day after that.''
General manager John Schuerholz, usually tight-lipped about trade talks, conceded there was interest in Rocker from other teams, not surprising for a 25-year-old left-hander who had 38 saves a year ago and will make only $290,000 this season.
Schuerholz implied several times that a deal could be made if the reliever continues to threaten clubhouse harmony.
''This gives us an opportunity to see if he and his teammates can become a cohesive unit again,'' the GM said.
Rocker's first order of business likely will be a one-on-one meeting with first baseman Randall Simon, who believes Rocker was speaking about him when he referred to a teammate as a ''fat monkey.''
''I deserve an apology,'' Simon said. ''I hope he's mature enough in his mind to treat people better so we can move on.''
In an exclusive editorial for today's editions of The Atlanta Constitution, Rocker apologized to those he offended and said comments about his teammates were ''totally unprofessional and out of line.''
''I hope in this coming year to somehow redeem myself,'' he wrote.
Rocker joins a long list of players whose suspensions have been overturned or reduced by arbitrators, a group that includes Steve Howe (twice), LaMarr Hoyt, Ferguson Jenkins, Pascual Perez, Tony Phillips and Willie Wilson.
Selig said the latest ruling ''does not reflect any understanding or sensitivity to the important social responsibility that baseball ... has to the public.'' But some lawyers who work for baseball were pleased Das established a precedent that speech can be punished.
Gene Orza, the union lawyer who argued the case for Rocker, expressed disappointment that the penalty was not reduced even more. Das accepted the union's claim that the most players can be fined for off-field behavior is $500.
''Obviously, we thought from the beginning that the penalty was excessive,'' union chief Donald Fehr said. ''Hopefully, everybody understands what has happened and we can put closure on this issue.''
Atlanta city councilman Derrick Boazman, leader of a coalition of minority groups that has called for the Braves to release Rocker, was unhappy with the arbitrator's decision.
''Hate and bigotry and homophobia and racism have a place, evidently, and that place is in major league baseball,'' Boazman said.
Shortly after the ruling, a group of protesters gathered at Turner Field in Atlanta. An Orlando-based activist group planned a similar demonstration today at one of the main entrances to the Disney World complex where the Braves train.
Rocker will wind up missing the first 13 days of spring training and the first 12 games of the regular season. Atlanta's first game after the suspension is against Philadelphia at Turner Field on April 18.
Rocker was repeatedly taunted by New York Mets fans during the pennant race and NL championship series, and then by New York Yankees fans during the World Series. Several fans threw objects at the pitcher and some spit at him.
Angry at the treatment he received, Rocker told the magazine he would never play for a New York team because he didn't want to ride a subway train ''next to some queer with AIDS.'' He also mocked foreigners.
But some of less publicized comments were just as upsetting to teammates, including his assessment that the Braves' clubhouse was too laid back, ''like a doctor's office.''
''There are issues that go beyond some of the things said in that article,'' Glavine said. ''John should have a chance to explain himself and show that the way he was portrayed in the article was not his real mindset.''
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