|Thursday, January 13
Andrew Young sets up Aaron-Rocker meeting
ATLANTA -- Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker, taking another step to redeem his image after derogatory comments toward minorities, homosexuals and foreigners, met Thursday with home-run king Hank Aaron and former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young.
Aaron, a senior vice president with the Braves, said his highly critical view of Rocker was softened by the meeting at Aaron's car dealership in suburban Atlanta.
"We had a very, very good conversation," Aaron said. "I didn't feel this way before. ... But I was well-pleased with the way John presented himself."
An NAACP official, however, once again called for the Braves to release Rocker, who had 37 saves for National League champions.
"Not only are we outraged at the statements attributed to Rocker, but insult is added to injury by the fact that the Braves organization has allowed this situation to fester for so long without taking swift and decisive action," said R.L. White Jr., president of the NAACP's Atlanta branch.
Rocker issued a brief written apology after the December publication of his remarks in Sports Illustrated, then dropped out of sight until a Wednesday interview with ESPN in Rocker's hometown of Macon.
He admitted that his comments made him look like "a complete jerk," but denied being a racist and apologized for the uproar he has caused.
Young, a black civil rights leader who also spent two terms as mayor of Atlanta, arranged Thursday's meeting at the request of Macon Mayor Jack Ellis, who also is black. The day began with a stop at Young's home.
"We had a very good conversation, not about race or racism, but the problems of being a celebrity and how to deal with you guys in the press," Young said. "He's a good pitcher, but he's got to learn to be a celebrity."
Young then accompanied Rocker to Aaron's dealership for a meeting that lasted more than an hour. Aaron conceded that he was not impressed with Rocker's apology on ESPN, but had a change of heart after sitting down with the pitcher.
"I think John has some ideas about talking to some of his teammates and doing some of the things he needs to do to gain their confidence once again," Aaron said. "Since I've had this conversation with John, I feel a lot better about what he said and how he felt."
Still, Aaron believes the pitcher faces an uphill battle to gain acceptance from his teammates, and Young said he is concerned about the fan reaction to Rocker's comments.
"I think John Rocker has got a hard way to go," Young said. "Every ballpark he goes to, people are going to push him. Once you lose your temper, people say, 'If we can get him riled up, he won't be able to pitch.' "
Young said the pitcher should take a page from Aaron's behavior during his pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record. Aaron endured massive media attention and hate-filled comments from racist fans on the way to breaking Ruth's mark with his 715th homer in 1974.
"There's no better example of how to deal with adversity than Henry Aaron," Young said. "I never heard him complain. I never heard him grumble. He kept his focus on playing ball despite all the pressure around him. That's what John Rocker has got to learn to do."
Rocker, who declined to speak with reporters Thursday, told ESPN that his derogatory comments were an angry response to the treatment he received in New York during the playoffs. He claimed that Yankees fans threw batteries at him during the World Series, and he said Mets fans spit in his face and poured beer on him during the NL championship series.
That didn't change the position of the NAACP, which criticized the Braves for failing to discipline Rocker.
"It has been nearly two months since Rocker made his feelings known, and yet the powers that be within the Braves organization have continued their wall of silence," White said.
The NAACP's Atlanta chapter sent letters to owner Ted Turner, president Stan Kasten, general manager John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox, demanding that Rocker be released by the team. The organization sent a similar letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who last week ordered psychiatric testing for Rocker before deciding whether to take any action.
White said he believes the Braves are hiding behind Major League Baseball.
"It is our feeling that the Braves' nonaction is solely because of money and greed, since John Rocker is their No. 1 closer," White said.
Schuerholz and Kasten declined comment Thursday.