|Tuesday, February 1
Updated: February 3, 12:20 PM ET
Union challenges Rocker suspension
NEW YORK -- As the Atlanta Braves returned to Turner Field on Tuesday to start winter workouts, the players' association filed a grievance to overturn John Rocker's suspension.
"I'm glad there's finally a decision," Braves manager Bobby Cox said, a day after commissioner Bud Selig banned Rocker from joining the team until May 1 because of disparaging comments against homosexuals, minorities and foreigners.
"Maybe we can get this behind us one of these days," Cox said.
The players' union asked arbitrator Shyam Das to "rescind the discipline," fully aware that many suspensions by baseball commissioners have been overturned or shortened.
"The discipline is without just cause," the union said in a letter sent to Selig's office.
The appeal of Rocker's suspension will start Wednesday. Lawyers for the players' association and the commissioner's office met Thursday and set the timetable for the hearing before arbitrator Shyam Das.
Richard Moss, the association's former top lawyer, said he was surprised Selig ruled Monday without a consensus on the punishment, which also included a $20,000 fine and sensitivity training.
"For the commissioner's office to just do something without consulting the players' association, without consulting Rocker and without reaching agreement on what was acceptable to everybody was kind of stupid," Moss said in a telephone interview from New York.
"What Rocker did was very wrong. The question is: What's the appropriate way of dealing with it? It should have been worked out with all the parties rather than a confrontational way. It's very stupid for the commissioner's office to do it this way. I think there's a very good chance it will get reduced, and they will look bad in the process."
In the meantime, several teammates and coaches were reluctant to discuss Rocker's suspension, though general manager John Schuerholz denied a gag order had been imposed by management.
"The players can say whatever they want," Schuerholz said. "We're just through talking about it as a team. It's over. That's an old issue. We are not going to let it be a distraction for our team."
Cox, returning from a hunting trip, said he would have preferred a quicker decision from the commissioner's office.
"It's been a circus around here for well over a month," Cox said. "It's really been the John Rocker show when it should have been about the Braves."
Even though Rocker's SI tirade also included controversial comments about his manager, Cox said he's talked with Rocker and is willing to forgive.
"I think he deserves a chance to present his case to the team and the fans," he said. "He's suffered an awful lot already. ... I know he would like to see this die down. Most people have already forgiven him and would like to get him back on the right track."
Rookie outfielder George Lombard, who is black, considers himself a close friend of Rocker's family and even spent the night at their home during a trip to Macon.
"Of course, it's disturbing," Lombard said of the SI article. "He's touched a lot of people. It's going to take time to mend those hearts."
Pitcher Kevin Millwood said he was "pretty shocked at how long the tirade went on.
"I've known John for a long time and I've never seen any of this come out of him," Millwood said.
In punishing Rocker, the commissioner noted that "his remarks offended practically every element of society."
Rocker has apologized, saying he was angry at New York fans and lost his cool. His agents issued a statement Monday saying the suspension -- believed to be the longest for an offense not related to drug use in nearly 23 years -- was too harsh.
In the meantime, Rocker could cause disharmony in the clubhouse of one of baseball's most successful teams. The Braves have made eight straight postseason appearances, losing to the New York Yankees in the World Series a year ago.
"Obviously, this is a big problem for our team," Millwood said. "He's put the whole team in a situation where not only John but the whole team has to answer questions about it."
He was asked if Selig's punishment was appropriate.
"John hurt a lot of people and now he has to pay the price for it," Millwood said. "I don't think this has ever really happened where one player has come out and gone on a tirade of this sort. There's nothing to look back on."
But Tim Raines, who signed with the Yankees on Tuesday, criticized the commissioner's ruling.
"Anytime a guy gets suspended for that length of time, it's excessive," said Raines, who is black. "It's a difficult question for me because I am one of those minority groups."
Precedent indicates that Rocker's suspension is likely to be reduced.
On July 26, 1971, defending AL batting champion Alex Johnson of the California Angels was suspended for failing to hustle. The decision was overturned an arbitrator who said Johnson had an emotional problem and should have been placed on the disabled list.
On Aug. 16, 1981, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton was suspended and fined $5,000 after making a series of obscene gestures toward heckling fans at Busch Stadium. Two days later, an arbitrator ruled the suspension should be lifted when Templeton checked into a hospital for treatment of depression.
Templeton returned to hit .367 in the final three weeks of the season, regaining the respect of teammates who were shocked by his initial actions.
The Braves hope Rocker can follow that precedent.
"It's going to be kind of personal how he is received," Millwood said. "I'm sure he offended some guys in here more than he offended other guys. He could go up to one person and say he's sorry. But he's got a lot of people to say it to."