Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Rocket, Rocker and 'Roid Rage?

John Rocker (circa 2000)
During the 2000 baseball season I wrote two sports stories about pitchers who displayed alarmingly aberrant behavior. What I didn’t do then was connect the dots.

Since the Mitchell Report came out and named the subjects of both articles as clandestine steroids users, now it’s easier to see that the strangely bad behavior of John Rocker (Atlanta Braves) and Roger Clemens (New York Yankees) may have had something in common -- ‘roid rage.

Below are excerpts of the two pieces, written for Richmond.com:
June 11, 2000: ...Meanwhile, I’ll be at The Diamond on Tuesday night to see what will happen, too. I’m as curious as the next guy. I’ll bet that crowd will set a season record for beer sales.

Furthermore, the Richmond Braves uniform John Rocker is wearing now may be the last Braves uniform he’ll ever wear. There’s no way he’s going to be recalled to the parent club, so he can accompany them to New York to play the Mets, at the end of the month.

My prediction is: the Atlanta Braves front office will leave him in Richmond until they can trade him for whatever they can get. (A six-pack of cold Rolling Rocks will do.) Then, with his next team, he will continue to struggle with his finicky control.

Finally, John Rocker will wig out totally, and they’ll throw a net over him. I say he’ll be out of baseball in a year – two at the most. Then he’ll find religion and do Oprah’s TV show. Eventually, he’ll reinvent himself into a sports clown – also known as a professional wrestler – and make a fortune.

Oct. 24, 2000: Sometimes, the over-the-fold news in sports is alarming and disgusting: Boxer/lunatic Mike Tyson bites off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear; Hockey player/enforcer Mike McSorley clobbers Donald Brashear with his hockey stick; Coach/lout Bobby Knight chokes one of his own players; Pitcher/intimidator Roger Clemens throws the shard of a broken baseball bat at Mike Piazza.

"Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?" indeed.

Tyson was suspended from boxing for a year. McSorley was suspended for the rest of the season and convicted of assault in a Vancouver court. Bobby Knight was fired. Many would say those punishments were inadequate, but at least the offenders were officially taken off the board.

Since the clip has been replayed to death on TV, I won't describe it except to say that in the first inning of the second game, the Yankee ace picked up the barrel of Mike Piazza's broken bat - that had flown toward the mound - and heaved it toward the Mets' star catcher.

It missed him.

Given the history between the two players - Clemens' beaning of Piazza during the season and the subsequent brouhaha - it is understandable that Roger lost his cool. But that hardly excuses it. While he is known to be an intense competitor, what Roger did this time was beyond the pale; he deliberately threw a bat at his opponent.

However, the real problem for me is that since his unfortunate loss of control, Clemens has told a sorry series of self-serving lies to justify his ugly deportment. Each new version has been more transparent and galling than the last.
Rocker and Clemens are just two of the occasionally boorish baseball players on the Mitchell Report list. Scowling Albert Belle, who once threw a baseball at a fan, is on the users list, too. Then there were all those charging-the-mound incidents of the same era. Hmm...

With all the emphasis on the cheating angle of the steroids story -- Should Barry Bonds’ home run record count? Should Mark McGuire get in the Hall of Fame? -- maybe the dot-connecting that demonstrates just one of the problems with taking drugs to beef up one’s body, artificially, has been overlooked, somewhat.

It would be interesting to look at the over-the-top outbursts from the last 20 seasons of baseball and see how many times the names on Mitchell’s list show up as being the ones who were foaming at the mouth. That angle seems helpful in understanding Albert Belle's surly attitude better.

Perhaps the same process applied to other sports would be eye-opening, as well. Isn't it worth considering that some unhealthy number of the most violent/out-of-control incidents involving professional jocks over the last two decades were fueled by the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs?

Then there was the time outfielder/admitted steroids abuser Jose Canseco head-butted a baseball over the fence, giving the batter a home run. 'Roid rage?

Maybe not, but it sure was funny.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

1 comment:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always wondered if Rocker was on something. He twitched and blinked so oddly when he pitched. But I never thought about steroids until the Mitchell Report.