LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves get their star closer back today.
John Rocker, as gifted a relief pitcher as there is in baseball, was on his way to Braves camp Wednesday.
So why weren't his teammates celebrating? Or at the very least, why weren't they applauding the decision that returned their closer to them a lot sooner than anyone expected?
Could it be because many or most Braves don't want Rocker here now? Could it be because they have as much taste as as they have talent?
When Rocker gets to camp, he'll have to show a lot more than a mitt-popping fastball and sharp breaking pitches. He needs to show his teammates a couple things he has not demonstrated publicly to date: remorse and contrition.
Baseball's new arbitrator, Shyam Das, let Rocker off easy. Yet, it's no guarantee his teammates will do the same. One difference is that Das only knows Rocker from their hours together in a hearing room, where Rocker presumably behaved. Rocker's teammates had to live with him all last year. The experience didn't endear Rocker to them.
Braves players didn't go so far as to post a ''Stay Out'' sign in Rocker's locker Wednesday. But suffice it to say, he is returning as something far less than a hero. Rocker has a lot of explaining to do when he pulls into camp. Then he has some catching up to do. He's entering the game way behind, something he's unaccustomed to as a closer. ''We're going to see what he has to say. Then after that, we just need him to be quiet,'' catcher Eddie Perez said.
Even the most patient and poised of the Braves, Tom Glavine, showed the start of frustration Wednesday when reporters approached him again for his take on the reliever with the racist comments. Glavine's initial response was to yelp to no one in particular, ''I'm tired of going out of my way for John Rocker.'' Notice, Glavine was not cursing the reporters. He's smart enough to know who's to blame for this unending mess.
No Brave would say whether they applauded the ruling by Das, who not only told Rocker he could report immediately to spring camp but that he would have his suspension during the regular season cut from a month to two weeks.
Maybe the Braves were simply stunned, like the rest of us. Rocker seriously hurt the Braves and the game with what he said, and for that he is paying with a two-week vacation. Das' regular-season penalty for Rocker is 12 games, which translates into 5 1/3 innings assuming he is used similarly to last season. Five and one-third innings. For turning an organization on its ear. It doesn't seem right.
Several teammates said they are willing to forgive Rocker but want to keep a close eye on him. ''He's said all he needs to say to me. I'm going to put more weight on what he does when he thinks no one is looking,'' Glavine said. ''As they say, actions speak louder than words. It's easy to apologize. It's a lot harder to act (the right way) every day.'' Glavine said the problem isn't only Rocker's offending words. ''I think there needs to be changes,'' Glavine said. ''There are issues that go beyond what was said in that article.''
The organization with the greatest staying power is showing signs of wear. Rocker's words did reverberate. In a Dec. 22 Sports Illustrated article, Rocker said that when riding the No. 7 train in New York, you risk sitting next to ''some queer with AIDS,'' and that the thing he really doesn't like about New York are the foreigners. He added that Asian women are horrific drivers.
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