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Baseball 2000
(Spring 2000)

The Orlando Cepeda Story
(Spring 2001)

Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

June 7,2000

Blame Rocker, Not The Media

Now that John Rocker has once again made a fool of himself by confronting and threatening Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman, will Peter Gammons and other Rocker defenders in the media continue to portray him as the victim, while promoting his supposed "intelligence?"… Gammons and others might criticize their media brethren for harping on the Rocker story since it initially broke last winter, but when the Atlanta relief pitcher verbally accosts the writer who originally reported his derogatory quotes, the media HAS to report it. Just as the media had to report Rocker’s recent shouting match with a fan at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. It is, simply put, the media’s job, and any failure to discuss Rocker’s continuing transgressions—especially given his lack of repentance—is a dereliction of duty… Based on the Sunday comments of Brian Jordan in reacting to the latest Rocker mess, at least some of the Braves understand that Rocker is at fault here—and not the media—for prolonging this story and making them continue to answer media questions about their teammate’s antisocial behavior. During a taped interview that was aired on national television, Jordan pointedly referred to Rocker as a "cancer" on the club, a clear signal that he’s not buying the "Rocker as victim" scenario. Jordan, like many of the Braves, simply can’t stand his presence in Atlanta. If it hasn’t happened already, it may be time for one of the Braves’ team leaders to confront Rocker upon his return to Atlanta (if that ever happens) and let him know that his act is no longer appreciated or tolerated in the Braves’ clubhouse. If and when the Braves get around to recalling Rocker from Triple-A Richmond, we wouldn’t be surprised if several of the Braves approach general manager John Schuerholz and request that Rocker be traded as soon as possible. If that happens, the Braves will either hope to acquire another closer in a trade for Rocker, or turn ninth-inning duties over to a committee led by veterans Kerry Ligtenberg, Mike Remlinger, and Rudy Seanez… Did the Braves make the right decision in sending Rocker to the minor leagues, rather than risk the wrath of the Players’ Association with a hefty suspension, or even an outright release? In our minds, no. In a sense, the Braves are trying to send the public the message that Rocker’s demotion is purely about his current inability to throw strikes and is not punishment for his tirade against Pearlman. But we’re not buying that sentiment at all. If Rocker hadn’t verbally attacked Pearlman, the Braves would not have demoted Rocker to the minor leagues; they would have simply let him work out his control problems at the major league level. Rather than confront Rocker directly, the Braves’ organization is once again trying to walk on eggshells with its star closer. At best, the Braves have applied a short-term Band-Aid approach to a problem that should have been dealt with decisively long ago. In the spring, general manager John Schuerholz had acceptable trades ready to go with either the Indians or the Expos, but decided he could wait longer for an even better deal, or hope that Rocker’s stormy situation in Atlanta would eventually blow over. Well, neither scenario has happened. The latest incident has badly eroded Rocker’s dwindling trade value, which doesn’t figure to get any higher while he’s pitching at the Triple-A level. The only way that Rocker can rebuild that value is to pitch well in the major leagues, while at the same time showing a newfound maturity in dealing with the fans and media. Rocker won’t be able to pass either of those tests pitching in a minor league market like Richmond… Schuerholz has also created a difficult atmosphere for the current Braves’ bullpen. Each time one of Atlanta’s relievers blows a save or pitches poorly in a closing role, they’re going to hear media critics clamoring for the return of Rocker. And assuming that Rocker does return to the Braves at some point this summer, the media frenzy will begin all over again. Brian Jordan, Tom Glavine, and the rest of the Braves will have to deal with yet another round of Rocker questioning, and we know they’re in no mood for that... No, a much better solution would have been for the Braves to completely cut their ties with Rocker, either by trading him for what they could get, or giving him his unconditional release. The Braves should have realized that it was time to make Rocker someone else’s problem—now, not later.

Simon To The Bronx?

One of Rocker’s targets in the original Sports Illustrated story has resurfaced in the minor leagues. The Yankees recently signed Randall Simon (called a "fat monkey" by Rocker in the SI article) to a minor league contract after he had been released by the Marlins. Although the signing received very little attention in the New York newspapers, don’t be surprised if Simon earns an eventual call to the Bronx. He might end up as a platoon DH with Shane Spencer or as a left-handed bat off the bench. The Yankees are currently looking at the switch-hitting Felix Jose in the backup role after coming to the realization that Lance Johnson wasn’t the answer to their bench woes. If Simon can hit well at Triple-A while keeping his weight down, the Yankees might bring him up by July.

Pride of Central New York

Although Cooperstown is known as the "Birthplace of Baseball," this small town of 2,000-plus residents has never produced a single major league player. Given the village’s small size and the often-horrific spring weather, that should come as no surprise. Having said that, what is the geographic location closest to Cooperstown that has produced a player currently in the major leagues? That honor would belong to Oneonta (New York), a small city located 22 miles from the land of Doubleday. Oneonta is the birthplace of New York Yankees utility infielder Clay Bellinger, who persevered for 10 minor league seasons before earning a spot on the Yankee roster last season. Although Bellinger has struggled to hit .200 in the utility role, he has already hit two late-inning, game-winning home runs for the Yanks this season, including the decisive shot in Sunday’s victory over Terry Mulholland and the Braves. Bellinger, an excellent defender at either third or second base, has won over Joe Torre with his attitude, work ethic, and general baseball smarts… Although Cooperstown has never produced a major league player, it may be able to stake claim to the first black player in the history of organized professional baseball. In 1878, African-American pitcher Bud Fowler (whose real name was John Jackson) played for a team in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and then joined the Lynn Live Oaks of the International Association. Fowler went on to enjoy a 10-year career as a pitcher and catcher… While there’s little doubt that Fowler was the first African American to play professionally, a debate rages over whether he was actually born and raised in Cooperstown. Some sources list Fowler’s birthplace as Cooperstown, but census information indicates he was actually born in Fort Plain, which is about a half-hour drive from the site of the Hall of Fame.

1975 Reds and Red Sox Revisited

As we continue our look back at the memorable 1975 season, the Red Sox had moved into first place in the American League East by June 1. They held a four-game lead over the Yankees, Brewers, and Tigers, and had managed a stretch of rejuvenated play in late May despite a series of obstacles. For example, they played one game against Texas with only 21 players, what with outfielder Rick Miller and pitchers Diego Segui and Luis Tiant saddled in a hotel with a virus. Another player, utility infielder Buddy Hunter, had yet to arrive in Texas after a recent call-up from Triple-A Pawtucket. In another game, the Red Sox lost Bernie Carbo, Carl Yastrzemski, and manager Johnson to ejection after arguing with home plate umpire Lou DiMuro. Yaz piled dirt on home plate and then, after returning to the dugout, tossed his sunglasses out onto the playing field… The Sox managed to move into first place despite Carlton Fisk’s continuing absence with a fractured arm. Young catcher Tim Blackwell, recently called up from the minors, threw out seven of 11 Angels during a weekend series… On May 29, rookie Fred Lynn boasted a team-leading .330 batting average. Fellow freshman Jim Rice led the club with 22 RBIs… … Bill Lee led the staff with seven wins, while veterans Segui and Dick Drago formed a devastating duo out of the bullpen. Drago’s 2.08 ERA led all Boston relievers… Like the Red Sox, the Reds had used a late-May surge to move up in the National League West standings. Thanks to a seven-game winning streak at the end of the month, the Reds found themselves just one-half game behind the Dodgers, the NL’s defending champions. Part of the improvement could be traced to the recent promotion of minor league right-hander Rawly Eastwick. In his first four appearances, Eastwick picked up two saves and allowed only one run. And with veterans Clay Carroll and Will McEnaney already pitching well, the Reds had put together the deepest bullpen in the league… Another key factor in Cincinnati’s improved play could be traced to Sparky Anderson’s recent decision to move Pete Rose to third base, which enabled the Reds to use George Foster as an everyday player in the outfield… At the end of May, Joe Morgan ranked as the third leading hitter in the National League. With a .342 batting average, Morgan trailed only Pittsburgh’s Manny Sanguillen (.348) and St. Louis’ Lou Brock (.344) among NL batsmen… With a 2.49 ERA, starter Gary Nolan had pitched so well at times that Anderson likened him to Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and future Cooperstown member Catfish Hunter.

Next Stop, New York City

Our next engagement on the spring and summer book tour will be Saturday, June 10, in the Big Apple. We’ll be signing copies of both Baseball’s Last Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s and Roberto Clemente: The Great One at the Barnes and Noble located on 33 East 17th Street in Manhattan on Saturday evening. The event, which will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 PM, will include a presentation on Baseball’s Last Dynasty and a question-and-answer session. For more information on the weekend signing at Barnes and Noble, please call either 212-477-8809, or 607-547-0341.

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