"I would retire first [before playing in New York]. It's the most hectic,
nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 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." -John Rocker
The Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks begin their title defense tonight against the Bridgeport Bluefish. The Ducks are an independent league team with no affiliation to a major league franchise, so it's as far away from the show as you can get. The shortstop for the 1969 Miracle Mets, Buddy Harrelson, is now overseeing a lot of players looking for their own miracle...a chance to make a return to the major leagues.
If you go tonight, look around at all the stars that have fallen. You'll see former Red Sox junkballer Paxton Crawford, who is the embodiment of all the Red Sox who fell short before 2004. You'll see 34 year old former Cardinal lefty Donovan Osborne, who is on what is seemingly his 57th comeback from arm injury. You'll see former Mets shortstop Kevin Baez, and former Padres pitcher Todd Erdos. You'll see Chris Latham, who went from being a Yankee in 2003 to being out of baseball in 2004. Heck you'll even see the son of the most prominent pariah in baseball history, Pete Rose Jr., who has probably given up hope of living up to his father's legacy and would settle for one day playing in his 12th major league game.
Then take a look at long hair wearing number 49. You may recognize him. It's John Rocker.
"In the locker room at Shea following Game 4 of the National League
Championship Series, as Rocker ranted and raved, fumed and fussed, Mike
Remlinger, a 33-year-old lefthanded reliever with six years of major league
experience, was asked whether Rocker had gone too far. Remlinger -- quiet,
thoughtful -- paused. "The thing is," he said, "baseball is a game of humility.
You can be on top one minute, as low as possible the next. When you're young,
you don't realize it. But sooner or later you learn -- we all do. Be
humble." -Sports Illustrated, 1999
Rocker, now 30, was on top for more than a minute in 1999. He was the closer for the Atlanta Braves, had a wicked fastball, an unhittable change of pace, and that one of a kind personality (for better or worse) that you thought could handle being the ultimate villain. But since that NLCS, and since that infamous SI article, Rocker has certainly had enough opportunity to learn humility. He was traded away from the Braves in 2001 as his presence in the clubhouse was overshadowing his performance on the field. He lost his control in Cleveland, and couldn't stick with the Texas Rangers. Rocker then landed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003. He pitched a grand total of 1 inning for them before rotator cuff surgery ended his season. Now, after a year and a half of who knows what, John Rocker is playing for a New York baseball franchise in 2005...the Long Island Ducks."...as low as possible..."
Could Rocker return to the majors one day? At Shea Stadium??!??? He's said that whoever would be willing to sign his paycheck would be a team he would play with. That includes the New York Mets.
I will say this, Rocker as a Met would be an interesting psychological experiment...as much for New Yorkers as for Rocker himself. Would Met fans be willing to bury the hatchet as Rocker has said he would? Would they bury hatchet in Rocker's back? Would they be quicker to embrace Rocker after one or two scoreless innings in a Met uniform?
Rocker as a Met would also be a great opportunity for the ultimate acknowledgement of maturity. Think of John Rocker riding the 7 train...collecting donations for the homeless...PSA's for AIDS research...you know, truly acknowledging his faults and turning his life around and becoming one of us. Think of how many athletes have thrived after getting a second chance, especially in New York City.
Metstradamus prophecy: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever happen. I have no idea if Rocker truly gets it or not. I do know that rotator cuff surgery and not being able to hit the plate with a beach ball are far greater obstacles than overcoming an angry fan base. And when push comes to shove, I think Rocker really would choose retirement rather than deal with the media scrutiny of pitching for the team he insulted at every turn just six seasons ago.
For now though, I'll settle for the sweet irony of John Rocker making his summer residence in Central Islip, NY.