John Rocker Tells A Truth No One Wants To Hear (Especially From Him)

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There’s no difference between what John Rocker said and what baseball as a whole did regarding performance enhancing drugs. Rocker’s recent comments elicited a rehashing of his behaviors when he was playing the wrestling bad guy. The entire genesis of “Rocker is an idiot” stems from his ill-advised interview in Sports Illustrated. Because Rocker said some offensive things then doesn’t automatically make everything he says meritless. If it were a former baseball owner, a respected player, a broadcaster, an agent, or a writer who came out and said the same things Rocker said, would it be seen as blatant honesty or Ann Coulter-style, absurd over-the-top salesmanship?

Rocker said the following while appearing on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan:

Honestly, and this may go against what some people think from an ethical standpoint, I think it was the better game.

At the end of the day when people are paying their $80, $120, whatever it may be, to buy their ticket and come watch that game, it’s almost like the circus is in town.

They are paid to be entertained. They wanna see some clown throw a fastball 101 mph and some other guy hit it 500 feet. That’s entertainment. You’re paying to be entertained.

Was there anything more entertaining than 1998—I don’t care how each man (Sosa and McGwire) got there—was there anything more entertaining than 1998?

Nowadays Rocker’s a guest on radio shows only because they realize that whatever he says will be twisted out of proportion because of the new politically correct sensibility against PEDs. Never mind that the owners, the players, the media and the fans were all holding hands denying the reality that the home run records set by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and the resurgences from pitchers long past their sell-by date like Roger Clemens came about due to drug use. Since Rocker said it, it has to be treated with revulsion. The only problem is that he’s right.

After the 1994 strike that wiped out the playoffs and World Series, blew away Tony Gwynn’s last chance at hitting .400, ruined Matt Williams’s run at the home run record and essentially demolished baseball in Montreal, the sport went into overdrive to replenish fan interest. Whether or not there was a tacit decision to ignore PED use or a whisper campaign to encourage it probably depends on whom you’re talking to or about. Commissioner Bud Selig acts as if he had no clue what was going on; the players were looking to get paid; the front office people had to sign players they knew were using to keep their jobs; the owners couldn’t care less; the media turned their heads; and the fans came back to the ballpark to watch the players hit dingers and shatter records. If no one’s innocent, everyone’s guilty.

It was only when the moral outrage started based on the self-aggrandizing investigation of Jeff Novitzky that got the ball rolling on exposure of PED use in sports. By then baseball had no choice but to put up a front of ignorance and take steps to “clean up” the game. It’s still ongoing with the current Biogenesis investigation threatening to be the newest in a string of baseball’s attempts to be dictatorial against one of the most powerful and committed unions on the planet. To meet their current ends they’re willing to run the risk of another collusion verdict in the inevitable lawsuits to be filed by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and all the other players named in the records.

To imply that Rocker is wrong in his assertion that it was a show MLB was putting on to entertain the fans and make a lot of money is contrary to the facts. His statements were not based on wringing the last vestiges of attention from his infamy.  He was telling a truth that no one wants to hear or admit.

It’s simple to dismiss Rocker as a bitter fool by pointing to an entirely separate incident that happened over thirteen years ago. What happens when someone who’s not perceived as a bitter fool says the exact same thing? Then will it be seen as someone bringing forth contentions that all of baseball, the media and the fans loathe to admit: they got a thrill out of seeing all the records falling and balls flying out of stadiums. In their statements, baseball acts indignant at the PED use. In their actions/inactions, they were in on it and, in fact, encouraged it.

Say what you want about Rocker as a person, but his statements are dead-on. Because no one wants to hear them, especially from him, doesn’t alter their accuracy.

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Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

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