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Off His Rocker

Firing Braves pitcher is letting him off too easy

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We have an old saying in our family: ”Never miss a good opportunity to shut up.“ In keeping with that time-honored philosophy, but eschewing it personally for the moment, let me offer a few helpful suggestions for some people.

John Rocker: Shut the hell up.

New York Media Geniuses: Shut up.

Self-vindicated New York Mets fans: Shut up.

Whiny, self-vindicated Yankees fans: Shuts up, youse, too.

Pontificating, pompous, bandwagon-hopping politicians: Please, please, please shut up. (Then please go away.)

George Steinbrenner: Don’t even think about it.

Purple-haired people on the subway, welfare mothers under 20 with four kids, gays, lesbians, fat monkeys, Japanese women drivers, foreigners, and denizens of ”Beiruts“ all over America: Get ready. If his employers have any sense or fortitude, John Rocker is going to be spending a lot of time with y’all.

As even the most venom-dripping among his fellow New York haters will now admit, Rocker has been a very bad boy lately, not to mention a very boneheaded one.

His recent sociological observations, all dutifully scribbled by a bug-eyed interviewer from Sports Illustrated, began as a tirade against New York and quickly devolved into a full-bore, Bunkeresque rant against all groups of which Rocker presumably disapproves; only a lack of time, no doubt, prevented him from also including IRS agents, Trotskyites, male dancers, vegans, and purchasers of Yanni CDs.

Had he confined his targets to these last five classes, Rocker might yet be regarded as the wacked Bill Maher of baseball. Instead, he presented himself as a homophobic, xenophobic, even omniphobic child who’s not above referring to one of his own teammates by a sick racial epithet.

Al Campanis and Marge Schott were excommunicated from baseball for uttering remarks as poisonous as Rocker’s. So we can all agree here that Rocker deserves whatever whuppin that the Braves and/or baseball’s faux commissioner Selig administer.

Rocker is not worthy as a representative of a professional sports team or a major city. On the other hand, neither are the drug abusers, wife beaters, coach chokers, cheap-shot artists, and gay-bashing defensive linemen who were allowed to retain their respective jobs after their outrageous, even illegal, conduct.

From many corners, there’s a clamor, as the New York Times headline put it, to ”fire the bigot.“ I say that’s letting him off too easy.

Allowing Rocker to commit professional suicide, as with any self-murder, is to promote a cowardly exit. Fire him or suspend him, though it would appease the mob, and he’ll most likely view himself as a victim of political correctness. His warped views will only harden.

If the Braves and baseball are seriously interested in rehabilitating Rocker, instead of merely scoring PR points, they should deliver one of the severest punishments you could deal to any child: make him not only suffer the consequences of his actions but live close to them.

Let him find out what it’s like to have to work alongside the teammates he let down, especially the reviled foreigners (one of whom, Andruw Jones, was Rocker’s roommate on the road last season).

Make him answer every irate letter the Braves receive with an apology.

Most of all, require him to perform community service in an AIDS hospice; and with welfare-dependent, fatherless children; and with immigrants for whom English is still a second language. Make him get to know these people as individuals, instead of faceless classes. Then we’ll see about Rocker.

Meanwhile, let’s not overlook that he was right about one thing: Baseball fans in New York, on the whole, behave like churlish punks (and I’m being tactful here).

Since Rockhead’s utterances were published, many among the Gotham illuminati have fairly gleamed with smug, we-were-right-all-along condescension. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who’d be shackled on death row if demagoguery were a crime, offered that Rocker’s divisive attitude might explain why the Braves have faltered in the playoffs throughout the ’90s (overlooking the inconvenient fact that Rocker has played only two seasons in Atlanta).

Even the Times’ respected columnist George Vecsey betrayed an ignorant prejudice of his own when he suggested that Rockhead’s attitudes were the product of disenfranchised, rural rubes.

Then, of course, there were the legions of Mets and Yankees fans who contributed their vitriol to an anti-Rocker Web site long before the pitcher made his recently infamous remarks. According to one typical entry, the writer couldn’t wait until the Braves returned to the city.

This time, he threatened, he’d have even larger batteries to hurl at Rocker’s head.

So perhaps Rocker and New Yawkers have more in common than they’d like to let on.

At least that offers one consolation should the rehabilitation efforts fail and Big John can no longer find employment in baseball. His menacing appearance and violent disdain for foreigners render him superbly qualified to be a New York cop.

Super Freak

If you could encapsulate a player’s season into a single moment, Jevon Kearse’s came on Sunday afternoon. Just before halftime against the Steelers, the Freak broke through, sacked Pittsburgh QB Mike Tomczak, relieved him of the football, then sprang up, snatched the ball and sashayed, literally, into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.

Things have gone that way all season for Kearse, who has wreaked more havoc this year than El Niño. Even on a team with plenty of glory to go around, it’s easy to pinpoint the Freak as the player who has made the most difference between three straight 8-8 records and a glittering 13-3 mark in 1999.

Kearse’s nickname, of course, derives from his remarkable package of abilities: 4.4 speed or better, an NBA-worthy vertical leap, and hands enormous enough to clutch a ruler lengthwise between thumb and little finger. By virtue of such skills, Kearse has also made his teammates better. Offenses have fretted so much over blocking him that they’ve found it difficult to contain the Titans’ other pass rushers.

The Titans’ defense has long been loaded with veterans—careful professionals who read defenses, react, and seek to avoid mistakes. By contrast, Kearse’s agenda, as he articulated it earlier this season, is to ”raise a ruckus“ on every play. Thus far, he’s succeeded beyond the fondest hopes of his coaches.

Just as much, Kearse’s youthful enthusiasm seems to be infectious and to have helped rejuvenate the team. Early on, he celebrated sacks with the ”Gator chomp“ from his collegiate days at Florida, inspiring second-year cornerback Samari Rolle, once Kearse’s rival at Florida State, to hum the Seminole tomahawk chant—and making the old heads on the field wonder whether they’d been transported somehow back to their freewheeling younger days.

Maybe it’s just a subjective perception, but it seems that the Titans have played a little looser, with a little more emotion and spontaneity, than before Kearse’s arrival. It’s no coincidence that he’s the favorite among fans. He’s a reminder that the business of football can become pure fun.

If that notion keeps catching, perhaps Jeff Fisher will allow the Freak to line up, just once, at wide receiver and try to outrun a defensive back on a fly pattern. That, you’d have to see.

And one more thing

A perspicacious reader writes with one item he says should have been included on our recent ”Greatest of the Century“ list: the Top Dante Joneses. Of course, we’re delighted to include this late addendum:

1. Dante Jones, Denver Broncos’ linebacker

2. Dontae Jones, Nashvillian, former New York Knick and Mississippi State basketball star

3. Dahntay Jones, currently a member of the Rutgers men’s basketball team.

How it looks from the La-Z-Boy

Titans 24, Bills 1

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