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Rocker will be cheered, if ...



Published: Fri, June 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Unless the Cleveland Indians close June with a real swoon, left-handed relief pitcher John Rocker will make his debut at Jacobs Field sometime this weekend against the Kansas City Royals.

It should be Cleveland's most-anticipated relief appearance since Charlie Sheen played Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in the 1989 comedy "Major League."

Some Tribe fans have been speculating as to what the response from paying customers will be when the controversial pitcher comes running in from the center-field bullpen for the first time.

Will he be booed?

Maybe by a few.

The cheers will drown them out.

Cleveland is going to love this guy. Heck, they've already named their WNBA team after him. (Not really.)

Sprinter: The former Atlanta Braves closer sprints to the mound when summoned. Northeast Ohio baseball fans appreciate players who exert energy.

Rocker hates New York. Ring a bell, Tribe fans? (OK, thanks to gracious in-laws, I admit to visiting New York City about 10 times over the past 16 years. The Big Apple is a great place to visit but ...)

Rocker is left-handed, saved 24 games last year and has been mowing down American League batters whenever he has faced them.

Cleveland is going to love this guy.

Rocker comes to town with a "controversial" label from an idiotic interview he gave to a Sports Illustrated reporter 20 months ago.

In it, Rocker, who is a racist whether he believes it or not, proved that his talent with a baseball exceeds his brain capacity.

Make that far exceeds his brain capacity.

Cleveland won't care. Remember Albert Belle?

Saint Albert: In 1996, Belle was considered a saint in Cleveland even though:

UHe verbally attacked NBC reporter Hannah Storm before Game 3 of the 1995 World Series. (Belle's excuse -- he thought she was ESPN's Lesley Visser.)

UHe was caught and suspended for using a corked bat.

UHe chased Halloween pranksters with his truck after they egged his house.

UHe was suspended again after he flattened Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina who had the audacity to tag him for an out.

None of that mattered along the shores of Lake Erie until Belle signed with the Chicago White Sox and became the most unpopular man in Cuyahoga County not named Art Modell.

And then there's Tribe second baseman Roberto Alomar, who gained national notoriety in 1996 when he spat on umpire John Hirschbeck while playing for the Baltimore Orioles.

Alomar was one of the least popular visiting players at Jacobs Field in 1997 and 1998. But when general manager John Hart signed him for the 1999 season, the spitting incident was pushed aside.

Great deal: What this corner likes about the Rocker deal is how Hart traded for talent and dealt away two players the team was likely to lose to free agency in the off-season.

Steve Karsay wants a chance to be a starter. He won't get it in Cleveland. (Let's face it, if Karsay and Steve Woodard couldn't get starting opportunities this season after the injuries to Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright and the inconsistency of Chuck Finley, Dave Burba, Bartolo Colon and C.C. Sabathia, they never will.)

Steve Reed is 35 years old. Rocker is 26. Whose future is brighter?

This is one of Hart's best deals. The Indians have received a player who's signed for three more years at a reasonable price for two who were on their way out of town.

Cleveland fans are starved for a winner. Many who support the Indians with their hard-earned dollars either weren't alive when the Browns won their last NFL title in 1964 or were too young to remember. This deal improves their favorite baseball team.

Cleveland is going to love this guy.

XTom Williams covers Major League baseball for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.




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