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Outside the Lines: John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves, and team cohesion.

Outsides the Lines - John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves, and team cohesion.

Bob Ley, Host - The clubhouse is a major leaguer's inner sanctum.

Unidentified Atlanta Braves Player - Just like in a house, you know. Basically, you're a big family for 100-what-90-some-odd days or even more.

Ley - Like any home, the clubhouse is a haven where harmony is the rule.

Bob - You're together more than you are with your wife and children. So you have to, you know, have a certain cohesiveness in order to attain your goals.

Ley - But have the actions and distractions of one Player disrupted the team chemistry of the Atlanta Braves?

Brian Jordan, Braves Outfielder - Chemistry is a big part but, you know, but everybody's going to get along with everybody. That's almost impossible. Too many different personalities.

Chipper Jones, Braves 3RD baseman - Nothing outside of the clubhouse should affect what happens between the lines.

Ley - Today on Outsides the Lines, John Rocker, the Braves and team cohesion. How much can a clubhouse take?

Announcer - Outsides the Lines is presented by 1-800-CALLATT. Joining us from ESPN studios, Bob Ley.

Ley - John Rocker was told two things by his Atlanta teammates in a spring training meeting - First, put all of the controversy behind you; and second, do your job. This month, Rocker has done little to dampen the uproar over his remarks, threatening the "Sports Illustrated" reporter who wrote that original story, inviting New York fans to boo him, even suggesting he will ride the seven subway train this week in New York City.

And on the mound, Rocker has been equal measures effective and disastrous since his recall from the minors. So he's done nothing to help himself with his teammates who are not particularly fond of him even before the infamous remarks last year.

In four days, those Braves with John Rocker visit New York where all the talk is of extraordinary security measures and last fall's ill will and Rocker's intolerant comments. All of that with first place in the division likely on the line.

We have seen teams deal with rifts caused by religion and politics, even women, the choice of music, cliques formed alone the lines of race or religion, but there has never been such a spectacle of one against 24, as with this Braves clubhouse, a team renowned for its character and chemistry through a run of eight consecutive division championships.

Dave Revsine reports that clubhouse cohesion right now is being tested more than ever.

Tom Glavine, Braves pitcher - There's a definite advantage to having a clubhouse of guys that are on the same page.

Unidentified Atlanta Braves Player - It's very important that you understand the person next to you and that you pull for the person next to you.

Jordan - Chemistry is the key. You have to have good chemistry to win.

Jones - Winning clubs do seem to have positive clubhouse chemistry.

DR. ALLAN LANS, METS PSYCHIATRIST - We all know what that chemistry means. It's part of a feeling that when you're with that group, that you're working together. As long as you have that feeling, the group is successful.

Ray Durham, White Sox 2nd Baseman - Everyone is together. We're family, all of us. We go out to movies. I mean, we practically do everything together. And I think to be successful, you have to get along with everyone.

Dave Revsine, ESPN Correspondent (voice-over) - Durham was referring to the success his White Sox have had on the field this year. But while there are some notable exceptions, like the now infamous Bronx Zoo Yankees of the 1970s, Durham's words ring true for many teams, including the Braves in the '90s, the most successful national league club of that decade.

Glavine - And our clubhouse has always been a good clubhouse and a clubhouse that you don't hear a lot of problems coming out.

Thomas Stinson, "Atlanta Journal Constitution" - Braves are a big clubhouse team. They're there very, very early and there's a lot of card playing. And they wanted as few distractions as possible.

Sports Announcer - Number 49, pitcher John Rocker.

Revsine - Enter John Rocker, currently the game's biggest distraction. But even before Rocker was making national headlines with his angry rants, he was making enemies in the Atlanta clubhouse.

Stinson - As this went on last year, you could see more and more that the way he was. If the team lost, the team won, it really didn't fit with what he did. It was how he pitched that night, how he had performed, what he had accomplished, what his ERA was, how many saves he had. Sure, baseball is an individual sport but this team is a very veteran team that realizes that you're only as valuable as the guy next to you.

Revsine - For a while, though, Rocker was as valuable as anyone on the Braves. His 38 saves last year helped stabilize a closer spot that had been affected by Carrie Lightenberg's (ph) injury and Mark Wohler's struggles. But Rocker's racist comments in "Sports Illustrated" over the winter and his inability to stay out of the spotlight since have worn thin on the Braves.

Jordan - It's hard enough to play this game, when in every game you got to face, you got to hear one guy on your team being a cancer, I mean, time and time again, it is going to eventually to take an effect.

Stinson - Well, he's essentially a man alone. The team functions around him. They don't prevent him from sitting next to them. If he wants to eat someplace, he sits there. But as far as regular interaction and teammates, you don't see much of that.

Glavine - You're constantly going to your locker and seeing somebody walking up behind you, and you're wondering, all right, what question do they want to ask you about now. And, you know, inevitably, you know the subject. And, I mean, I've never been a person to ask a reporter that wants to talk to me, "What do you want to talk about?," And that's the first thing my mouth now. You know, if he's going to create these problems and these things are going on, then that's his mess to clean up, it's not our mess to clean up.

Dibble - It's difficult to be in that situation where, you know, your other teammates have to answer for your actions.

Revsine - Rob Dibble knows that better than most. The former reliever's fiery personality put him in the media spotlight throughout his career.

Dibble - I was as close to John Rocker as maybe anybody. I mean, I had problems with the press, I was suspended a bunch of times, you know, I threw a ball in the stands, I threw a bat against the backstop. I did so many ridiculous things.

Revsine - The crucial difference, Dibble says, is that his teammates liked him and stood by him during his difficult times.

Dibble - I always had, you know, tons of friends and great family, you know, background and people that supported me through all my trials and tribulations. So as far as that goes, absolutely I was probably one of the luckiest people on the planet. I definitely feel for him. If he feels alone, it's a tough, you know, position to be in and try to be successful as a baseball Player as well.

Revsine - Rocker has tasted plenty of success early in his career, but this year, there's also been some failure mixed in. He's already taken one trip to the minors, and just this week, allowed five runs in just a third of an inning of work, adding to the Braves' dilemma.

Jones - I think having faith in everybody, knowing that our season could hang in the balance, you know, as far as, you know, just one Player. And certainly, you know, a lot of games could hang in the balance when John's out there. So, you know, as long as he goes out there and does his job in the ninth inning and doesn't cause anymore waves, then everything's going to be fine.

Stinson - How many chances they give the guy? I don't really see John reaching out to these guys, and certainly, they're not going to -- I think they've done as much as they can to forgive him and welcome him back to the team. I don't see any common ground yet and I don't believe that there's any belief that -- I would believe that there would be.

Revsine (on-camera) - Many of the Players and managers we talked to for this story emphasize that they think the clubhouse chemistry is overrated and only a small part of what makes a team successful. The fact is, despite the turmoil, Atlanta still owns the best record in the national league. But with the Braves on their way to New York this week, the climate surrounding Rocker figures to get worse before it gets better.

For Outsides the Lines, I'm Dave Revsine.

Ley - And when we continue, we will consider the fragile chemistry of a clubhouse for the first-place manager, former Player known as much for his writing on this topic and by a future Hall of Famer.

Ley - The topic, clubhouse chemistry. From Toronto, we are joined by the manager of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, Jim Fregosi, a baseball lifer, 17 years a Player, 15 years a big league skipper; from New York City Jim Bouton, who pitched 10 years in the bigs and is remembered for his Seminole work, "Ball Four;" and from Cincinnati, eight-time batting champion and future Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres.

Tony, let me begin with you. You know this Braves team so very well. You played an epic LCS against them couple of years. From distance, recognizing that all Players want to be pros and put everything out of their mind, what do you make of the situation, though, where you have one Player such a lightning rod in the clubhouse?

I guess we have a little bit of an audio problem there with Tony. We'll work on getting that fixed.

All right, let me skip up north of the border to Jim Fregosi and get your take from a distance, the challenge facing Bobby Cox.

Jim Fregosi, Blue Jays Manager - Well, you know, it's a difficult problem that I believe every manager has. You know, they talk about chemistry, they talk about a good clubhouse, what comes first - the chemistry or winning. I think winning comes first, and then all of a sudden, your club has good chemistry. I think it's a very difficult thing when you put 25 guys together for an extended period of time. You have to make it like a family atmosphere.

I believe that the clubhouse should be the Players' realm, that they should have their own freedom in there. I think the coaches should have their own room and the manager has his own office. I think as much freedom as you can give the Players to interact, to have some private moments, I think that's what's important, a good clubhouse.

Ley - I think we're all set now with Tony.

Tony, your quick take on the Braves situation.

Tony Gwynn, Padres Right Fielder - I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I feel like a lot of the veteran guys on Atlanta's team are probably having a difficult time with this because I think those guys are very professional. They go about their business, they want to win. I think they prepare well. And now, all of a sudden, you've got a situation where they're getting a lot of attention. And it's not the kind of attention that I think they want. I think they just want to concentrate on trying to play the best baseball that they can play.

Ley - Well, Jim Bouton, what comes first - winning or chemistry, or is chemistry just bunk?

Jim Bouton, Retired MLB Pitcher - Winning causes harmony, not the other way around. You could have the same two teams, same guys. They win one year, they're going to say they all love each other and they're a great bunch of guys. If they lose, they'll say, "Well, we had problems and, you know, we've got to make some changes in the clubhouse."

Ley - Well, Jim Fregosi, let me ask you this, though. You talk about giving Players their freedom. There have been veteran Players going to management, telling the general manager and the owners basically to move Rocker. There's been one individual on the club who went to Rocker, suggesting he not run in from the bullpen, not to make a spectacle out of that. He has blown off that suggestion. This is a rather unique situation, though, isn't it?

Fregosi - Well, it is a much different situation. It's an unfortunate situation, not for the Players, not for the Atlanta Braves, but for the game of baseball. As you said, I'm a baseball lifer. I like to do what's best for the game. I think this takes away from what the Atlanta Braves have accomplished. I think it takes away from the game itself, where you're concentrating on one individual. You know what? Ten years down the line, nobody will know who John Rocker is.

Bouton - But, you know, Jim, it's interesting, too, for fans and the public to see how people respond in this kind of situation. If you always had tranquillity, I don't think there'd be as many interesting social lessons for people. I think it's -- you know, it adds a level of interest that Rocker is a pariah in his own clubhouse and then to see how the Braves handle it.

Fregosi - Well, it adds interest as far as the media is concerned, but I think it takes away from what the Braves have accomplished, the kind of ball club they had, and it's a distraction. And what you're try to do as a manager is take the distractions away from the Players and allow them to perform under the least amount of pressures you can.

Bouton - Yes, well, yes. From a manager's point of view, that would be one of the things that you try to manage. But I'm talking about from an overall perspective of the game of baseball. I think that -- and from fans' point of view, I think it adds, you know, an interesting level here. I think more people are going to be talking about the upcoming series here with the Braves in New York than might have otherwise.

Fregosi - Well, I disagree. I just think that it's something that should be avoided. And when you have to concentrate all the media exposure on John Rocker and take away from an important series from the Braves and the Mets, I think that's ludicrous.

Ley - Well, Chipper Jones actually said, "We're worrying about New York City for the wrong reason." Let me ask you, Tony Gwynn, Jim Fregosi talked about it being a media story. Certainly, it is. But you've been in the bigs now for 18, 19 seasons. Talk about the explosion of what it's like, so many more media members in that clubhouse. That's your sanctum and it's a very unnatural setting. We wandered through with our cameras and our notebooks and there are more of us now than ever before.

Gwynn - Yeah. And I think that's one of the reasons why I'm sure a lot of Braves Players are having a little bit of difficulty dealing with this situation, because I think the Braves pride themselves on going out there and trying to play the best baseball that they can play and they want the focus to be on the baseball that they play. But I think right now, they feel like that's not the focus. When they go into New York to play the Mets here this week, will the focus be on the two teams and the battle that they're going to take place in or is it going to be on what happens with John Rocker on the way to the park, once he gets to the park, once he goes to the bullpen.

And I think from a Player's standpoint, you want the focus to be on the field and between the two teams and the battle that's about to take place and not so much on one individual and one individual's -- the things that he does. But you know, when he goes to New York, I mean, you know, there are going to be cameras everywhere. They're going to be following him to the ballpark. They're going to be keeping an eye on what he's doing in the bullpen. If somebody pops off from the stands, is he going to pop off back? And I think from the Braves' standpoint, they don't want the focus to be on that. They want the focus to be on baseball because that's -- obviously, that's what we're here to do.

Bouton - You know, it all depends on how the Players perform, too. I remember in 1964, we were in third place with about three weeks to go in the season. We just lost a tough doubleheader to the White Sox. On the way home on the bus from the ballpark to the airport, Phil Linds (ph) whips out his harmonica, starts playing on the harmonica. On the back of the bus, there's a big argument between Yogi and Phil Linds. Yogi comes to the back of the bus, swats the harmonica into Pepatone's (ph) knee. Frank Frescetti (ph) stands up and says it's the worst thing he's ever seen in the history of the New York Yankees. Reporters are jumping off the bus, calling in. The Yankees are racked with dissension. Yogi's lost control of the team.

Well, what happened? We win 18 out of our next 20 games, get into the World Series. Yogi and Phil are now posing with the harmonica on the last day of the season. And guess what? The harmonica is the catalyst that helped the team win.

Ley - Thank you for telling a first-person account on one of the most infamous incidents in Yankee and baseball history.

We're going to step aside for just a second, guys. When we come back, we'll continue considering clubhouse chemistry with Jim Fregosi, with Jim Bouton and with Tony Gwynn, Outsides the Lines.

Ley - Those were the Mets in spring training a number of years ago.

We're back on the topic of clubhouse chemistry, four days before John Rocker visits New York City. And our guests, Jim Fregosi, Jim Bouton and Tony Gwynn.

Guys, I'm going to play a piece of tape. It's Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker. It may sound a little bit comical but it also -- there's a germ of perhaps a point of discussion and one possible way of dealing with something like John Rocker in the clubhouse.

Unidentified Male - You can say hello to somebody, knock him down, hit him in the mouth and walk away. You know, that's the way I would do it. If I didn't like somebody, I wouldn't let it out to, like, the media. In front of the media, I'd walk up, "Hey, Larry, how you doing?" As soon as the guy, you know, turned the camera off, I'd knock him right on his rear end, you know.

Ley - Well, Jim Bouton, I've talked to a number of people in the game over the last several days, and unprompted and universally, they say they're surprised it hasn't come to physical confrontation, and they're suggesting that might be the best way to smooth things out.

Bouton - Well, who knows what's really happening behind the scenes. There may be a small fight or an argument has broken out in the clubhouse. But, you know, I still don't think that's going to really affect things that much. I mean, sure, if the Braves win, you know, Rocker won't have made a difference. If they lost, you know, he'll be the reason.

But I remember the Oakland Athletics of the '70s used to get in a fist fight in the clubhouse every other day. Those guys were fighting all the way into the World Series. So it's almost a clich how people who don't get along can be very successful. The legendary Tinkers (ph) to Evers to Chance supposedly never even spoke to each other.

Ley - Jim Fregosi, let me ask you this. You've got a left-handed closer with 97-mile-an-hour speed. How much of that is factored in? You've got Rudy Seanez is on the DL and I want to burn out Mike Remlinger. There are a lot of on-field reasons to keep John Rocker. That's a very finite skill that he has.

Fregosi - Well, you know, the one biggest thing that I try to preach to our Players is accept responsibility for your own actions. Once you accept responsibility for those things, then you can fit in any clubhouse. The one thing that's important to me is a Player's ability. Every Player you want on your club ought to be able to contribute. And Rocker's got a great arm. He's an integral part of their ball club if they are going to win. But I think sometimes the distractions will end up hurting the ball club. Your clubhouse and your team has got to have a feel of loyalty to each other and they have a responsibility to each other. And I don't think that's true in that clubhouse right now.

Ley - Tony, you had an experience back in the '80s. There was politics in the Padres' clubhouse, a little bit of religion as well. What was that like? You had some John Birchers (ph) in there and Eric Show (ph). The late Eric Show was known for his political views. What was that clubhouse like in dealing with that situation?

I'm told that we're having a problem with audio in Cincinnati so let me turn to Jim Bouton.

Jim, you've made the point that athletes are one dimensional and not fully developed human beings. Does that make them more adaptable to a situation like this? Yeah, we can put it aside and deal with this fellow?

Bouton - No, it's -- well, you know, today, more and more Players have college experience behind them so they're more homogenous than we were. When we played, almost everybody was a high school graduate, so when a kid came out of Alabama, you got Alabama. Brooklyn, New York was Brooklyn. All different religions, different ethnic backgrounds, different political beliefs, some great arguments in the bullpen about, you know, gun control and those sorts of things. You know, but that's not what brings them together, the fact that they, you know, like each other as human beings. What brings them together is the fact that they all respect each other for their talent.

And I think if John Rocker does well for the Braves, at the end of the season, you'll see a big clubhouse celebration and somebody will be throwing their arms around John. They'll say, "Hey, John, he's not so bad."

Fregosi - Jimmy, I think a little bit of the problem is that it's been many years since you've been in a clubhouse. I think the Players are much different in today's game than when I started playing back in the '60s. I think the Players are better educated; they know more about life, about lifestyle. They just have a better feel for everything about the game than a lot of Players did in the '60s.

Bouton - Well, they should be able to then -- for that reason, they should be able to handle the situation a lot better than we did.

Fregosi - I don't think that they're upset so much about the situation. I think they're upset about the fact that it's bothering their team.

Bouton - Well, I think it'll only bother their team if it bothers their team.

Ley - Let me jump in here and get back to Tony, if I could. We've reestablished Tony's audio in Cincinnati.

My earlier question, Tony, that you didn't have occasion to hear - Back in the '80s, the Eric Show situation -- politics, religion in the clubhouse -- how tough was that to deal with?

Gwynn - It was tougher, I would say. I agree with le Skip that clubhouse environment has changed. Like when I first came up as a rookie, your job was to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. And veterans made sure that, you know, if you got out of line, they'd put you in place. Where today, it's a little bit different. I think rookies have a little bit more freedom.

We're not as difficult on them as they were like in my era and I'm sure in Skip's era. It was a lot tougher then. And so the Show situation was a situation that we talked about a lot in the clubhouse. And, yeah, you got into discussions, you got into arguments where you might disagree, but basically, we left it in the clubhouse. And once we went on the field, it was about baseball. And once you came back into the clubhouse, it was about guys doing whatever they wanted to do. And so...

Ley - Did somebody have to step up, though, individually, a leader emerged to kind of calm the waters?

Gwynn - No, no. Actually, what happened every -- I mean, you argued your point. And believe me, back in that '84 club, there were a lot of guys who would argue their point. And they, you know, they voiced their opinion about it and they might not agree. And in most cases, most guys didn't agree with what was going on. But the bottom line was we left it in the clubhouse and once we went out on the field, it was about playing -- hopefully playing good baseball. And fortunately, that club played pretty well.

Ley - OK, gentlemen, I think that's it. We've just about run out of time.

Thanks to Jim Fregosi of the Blue Jays.

Skip, I know you got a game. Thanks for hanging in with us today.

Bouton - OK.

Ley - Former major leaguer Jim Bouton and Tony Gwynn of the Padres, as we've taken a look at clubhouse chemistry on Outsides the Lines. Be back in just a moment. Stay with us.

Ley - In a reminder that Outsides the Lines is interactive. Boot up, log on to Type in the keyword OTL weekly and you can browse our library of video clips and the transcripts of each of our past programs if you had occasion to miss them. And also, register your feedback or your story ideas. Once again, our e-mail address is for your story ideas and your feedback. And as always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Ley - And if you missed any portion of our look this morning at clubhouses and conflicts, the program is going to re-air in exactly two hours. It'll be 1 - 00 p.m. Eastern over on ESPN2.

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