No one likes John Rocker. His volatile, aggressive, and unfiltered persona rubbed everyone the wrong way. That’s why he made our team.
If you were assembling a real team, one that had to actually take the field and win games, John Rocker would be the last player you’d want on it. Few ballplayers of the Steroid Era (or any era) were as polarizing as the lefty reliever. Actually, “polarizing” is the wrong word for John Rocker; it implies an equal division of opinions. After a December 1999 Sports Illustrated piece in which he went on a homophobic, racist, and sexist tirade to interviewer Jeff Pearlman, a better word for the erstwhile reliever lies somewhere between “embattled” and “abhorred.”
But we’re not assembling a real team here; we don’t have to worry about clubhouse cohesion or public opinion, and few known steroid users dominated out of the bullpen like John Rocker.
Immediately tabbed as the closer of the future for the Braves, Rocker burst into the league with a fastball that topped 100 mph and a closer’s demeanor. Closers are supposed have an edge, they’re supposed to intimidate, and Rocker had his act down to a tee. He rode his callous, offensive attitude (and that unhittable heater) to a 2.49 ERA and 38 saves in 1999, his first full season in Atlanta. Lefties had a particularly hard time against the southpaw, hitting .140 with 27 strikeouts to go along with just three walks.
After the Sports Illustrated piece outed Rocker as a bigot, however, he entered a full-scale tailspin. It reached a point where the fed-up Braves traded their star closer to Cleveland in the middle of the 2001 season for basically nothing: mediocre relievers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed, both of whom left the team via free agency a few months later.
Years later, when Rocker admitted to having failed a drug test sometime in 2000, few people were surprised. He embodied exactly what we pictured when we thought of a steroid user. He was aggressive, physically imposing, and emotionally volatile. In June of that same year, Rocker was sent down to the minors (which did test for steroids at the time) for threatening a reporter, and his abilities abandoned him soon after.
After the 2001 season, the Indians let him walk, and he pitched a total of 25 ⅓ more innings in the majors for two different teams, including just one IP for the Devil Rays in 2003. His ERA from 2001 to 2003 was 5.00, to go with just 24 total saves.
Just like that, the 28-year-old Rocker was out of the game.
John Rocker wasn’t blackballed from baseball; he simply stopped performing at a major league level. Whether it had anything to do with the SI piece (and the ensuing media frenzy) is anybody’s guess. It’s likely that the bile spewed about him in the press had an emotional effect on him, and once you lose that edge, you may as well hang up your spikes. It certainly didn’t help to be moved from team to team like he was at the end of his career (it’s hard to find a steady supplier when you’re on a new team every month), or that he played in a league that did test when he was demoted in 2000.
Sports teams are notoriously forgiving of stars with off-the-field issues. For evidence, look no further than Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger has endured multiple sexual assault accusations, but is still welcomed with open arms by Steeler Nation (and the rest of America) because he wins football games. John Rocker didn’t rape anybody. He didn’t assault anybody. If he could still throw 100 mph for strikes, he would undoubtedly find a home with some team willing to take a chance on him.
We don’t know why Rocker eventually fell apart, but possibilities abound. We do know that we need a lefty out of the bullpen, and we can’t think of a better option than this embattled ’roider.
More From the All-Steroids Team:
- C: Todd Hundley
- 1B: Phil Nevin
- 2B: Brett Boone
- SS: Rich Aurilia
- 3B: Ken Caminiti
- OF: Gary Matthews Jr.
- OF: Brady Anderson
- OF: Jay Gibbons
- UTIL: Jay Bell
- DH: David Ortiz
- SP: Edinson Volquez
- MRP: Brendan Donnelly
- CL: Eric Gagne
—Photo AP/John Bazemore