Swearing off most journalists, baseball bad boy John Rocker decided to take control of his image himself.
Rocker, portrayed as a racist and homophobe in a "Sports Illustrated" story in 1999, recently released his autobiography -- “Scars and Strikes” -- and he's also currently writing a column for World Net Daily, a conservative political site.
“I can’t win, even today. I get journalists who try to befriend me and I think I have a good rapport, and when the story comes out, it’s not exactly what I said,” said the 37-year-old Rocker, who pitched for six seasons and retired with an ERA of 3.42. “It seems that I give them one or two quotes that seems to support the theme they already had.”
So that's why Rocker wrote “98 percent” of the recently released book with celebrity biographer J. Marshall Craig. It took years to get off the ground. He first started writing in 2005, putting together about six or seven chapters, and he couldn't really find the right publisher.
“The book wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t the right time. I just moved on to other things,” said Rocker, who has stayed busy since leaving the game of baseball in 2005 with real estate and charity work. “About two years ago, I started meeting with the right people and got energized again. The conversations resparked the flame and off I went.”
After that book was released, people at World Net Daily, which has about 7 million views a month, wanted Rocker to write a column, which Rocker says might eventually turn into a regular gig.
Playbook recently spent an hour talking with Rocker on a variety of topics.
Do you care what people think about you?
“I’ve never cared. There are only about five or six people in my life that I care what their opinion of me is. Two of them are my closest friends since childhood. And then my long-time girlfriend along with a handful of family members. If they are fine with me, then I’m fine with me. My friends pay much more attention to what’s out there than I do. My girlfriend gets a little bothered but that’s because she has the emotional attachment. I have to tell her that sometimes people aren’t nice. I can run myself ragged to the ends of the earth, and people will still have a problem with me. I choose to strictly focus on the opinions those closest to me have about me personally. If their opinion is good, then things must be OK.”
Do you think the media tries to provoke you?
“I don’t need much provoking. I’m not out for a popularity contest or public office. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions and some you might not agree with. It doesn’t make my opinion wrong and yours right. The last time I checked, we were living in the United States of America. I get brutally chastised in public media for simply having an opinion a particular journalist may not agree with. Most of my opinions are backed up with experience and fact. I very rarely form a completely uneducated opinion. Just because my experiences which lead to my opinions are different from yours doesn’t make me wrong and you right.”
Does every interview bring up the SI story?
“It's been going on 13 years since all that happened. At this point, how are you going to jump on me anymore? I had one of these awakening moments about five or six years ago. It’s been similar to getting your hand burned when you touch the stove, you become wary of touching the stove again. I was doing this interview and as usual I was on pins and needles. I was just taking it from this journalist and was trying not to get riled up. I saw the landmines. I knew how to tiptoe around things. It was not a great interview. When I was riding back in my car; I had an epiphany. I thought, oh my God, I don’t have a job anymore. I don’t have to work. You can’t fire me from anything. You can’t really get me in any way. I’m not trying to intentionally offend people. But I can basically do whatever I want to do and say whatever I want to say. My views might not be drastically popular to some but what could the backlash be to me? No one can get me anymore. That realization was a big turning point for me."
Have you talked to the writer, Jeff Pearlman, since?
“I thought we were pseudo friends. He was the head baseball writer for Sports Illustrated and I saw him in the locker room a lot. I probably had 10 to 12 very candid conversations -- not for any story -- with him over a year or two period. My agent called me up and said Jeff wanted to do this interview for the magazine. I had never really read any of his work prior to. I was completely unaware of his consistent history. He spent 10 hours with me. We were just in a car riding around with a friend. We talked about immigration, politics and liberals, baseball. You name it. Then it all blew up. We haven’t really talked since then. I have no reason to talk to him. I wrote several chapters in my book that relate to that article and things I reportedly said and opinions I supposedly have. I have an entire chapter called 'Stealing Home' which discusses from a very factual basis the state our country is in and is heading from a standpoint of legal and illegal immigration. It’s over 20 pages of personal commentary containing the same thoughts and feelings that Pearlman and I discussed those many years ago. Evidently, Pearlman thought it to be competent journalism to reduce what I put into 20 pages down to a few sentence fragments. Nowhere in my 20-page chapter on immigration do I give even the mere suggestion of hating immigrants.”
So do you regret the interview and how it turned out?
“Do I regret how it was broadcast or depicted? Absolutely. I know me. My friends know me. That story is just one extremely biased perception of me. Unfortunately, a great majority of the American public gets their information from the news media. Many members of the media have traveled to my hometown of Macon, Ga., and have spoken at length to my high school teachers and coaches, my ex-teammates, at least 30-50 people from my past of all races from Hispanics to Asians to African-Americans and all have strongly refuted what Jeff did to me, the image that he created. Names like Javier Lopez, Eddie Perez, Ellis Burks, CC Sabathia, Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon and dozens more have consistently come to my defense over the years. Those guys know me day in and day out and most of them have for many years. Unfortunately, many people, particularly those in media, want to adamantly believe the depiction created by one guy who barely knew me. You’re going to hang your hat on that one image?”
Was it sort of cleansing to write your book?
“The biggest thing about doing the book was it was a great soul-searching opportunity. Everyone lives their life in a rush, day to day, obligation after obligation. We don’t really know who we are. I don’t think many people really get to know themselves. Sitting down to write this book forced me to think far back into my past. I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The book starts when I, at the age of 10, got this wild, crazy notion of wanting to play major-league baseball. It’s about all the trials and tribulations; the mental and physical 'coming of age' for a young kid as he sets off on this decade-long journey to The Show. I definitely learned a lot about myself during the process of putting this book together.”
Did all that negative publicity affect your psyche and your career?
“Not really. That’s what most people want to insist is the case, but that’s just not the way it was. The article broke in late ’99, early 2000, which meant that the 2000 season should have been a disaster for me. Yet I was 25 of 27 in save opportunities with an ERA below 3.00 and in 2001 I was leading the National League in saves with an ERA below 3.00 again when I was traded to Cleveland. Then, in 2003, my shoulder simply blew out. Dr. James Andrews said my shoulder looked like the equivalent of a car tire that had blown out doing 80 down the highway. I’m fine now. I can function. Actually, three weeks ago, I pitched in a MLB alumni game in Florida. I was grunting and groaning to throw about 78 mph and after every few pitches I would have to walk off the back of the mound and double over to catch my breath. All I kept thinking was, ‘How did I ever used to make a living like this’?”
How are you making a living these days?
“I dabble in real estate. I stay busy. I deal mainly in single family residential real estate owned assets from banks. I am beginning an effort with a financial planner by the name of Ryan Mack. Ryan is an incredibly bright guy who received his business degree from the University of Michigan and did the Wall Street thing for a while. After becoming a bit disgusted with that world and wanting to help his community in some way he left the dog-eat-dog world of Wall Street and started a 501 C-3 organization call the Optimum Institute for Economic Empowerment, which takes a message of economic empowerment to underserved communities around the country. I am beginning a 10-city tour with him later this year as one of this motivational speakers. You should check Ryan out; he seems to have a lot of great things going. In addition I’ve been staying busy with a few book tour dates.”
So you have moved on with your life.
“The media doesn’t want to put that kind of information about me out there. How is anyone going to believe I’m not the person the media has so adamantly insisted I am all of these years? To show the reality of my life means many in media would have to admit they were wrong. People generally don’t like to admit they were wrong. For example, before my current girlfriend, I dated an African-American girl for three years. We were almost engaged. She lived in Manhattan. I would spend Thanksgivings and Christmas with her and her family. And I’m supposedly the poster child for racism? I’m the world’s biggest bigot? OK, whatever you say. The actions in my life have always proved otherwise."
Are you happy these days?
"More times than not, happiness is a choice. I choose to be happy."