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Editorial: Somebody to hate

By The Times/Ledger

John Rocker is gone. The Mouth from the South came and went and the only real damage was to three Met batters who would have loved to punish the Atlanta Braves relief pitcher with a powerful homerun or at least a cheap single.

It didn't happen. The fans stood on their feet and booed at the top of their lungs while Rocker went to work. When the inning was over, New York was left without its moment of vindication.

Rocker put a damper on the fun shortly before the game when he apologized for offending New Yorkers in a foolish interview with Sports Illustrated. Rocker reminded reporters that no player can ever be bigger than the game and that he was just a guy who plays baseball and his words should not be taken seriously.

Maybe that was the meanest thing that Rocker could have done. With a sincere sounding apology, he took away the city's reason for hating him. And sadly it seems we do love having someone to hate. Hate has become part of the game and the game has become a metaphor for life.

The people who ride the No. 7 train to and from Manhattan every morning should be ashamed that the city was prepared to give Rocker an armed escort to Shea Stadium, if he had decided to ride the subway to work.

The radio and TV commentators made it sound virtuous that no one in the stands assaulted Rocker – except with words. But bear in mind that before Rocker dashed onto the field, the stadium was packed with armed police officers on foot, on horseback and riding bicycles.

Even so, fans in the field level box seats were bathed in beer tossed by morons who thought it was their duty to pout their brew as some sort of Neanderthal rite of manhood. Like Macon, Ga., Queens, too, has its ignorant bumpkins.

John Rocker was a villain tailor-made for the city's tabloids, which recklessly fanned the flames of hatred.

The tabloids ridiculed the pitcher for his bravado when he said he would ride the No. 7 train and they accused him of being a wimp when he changed his mind, even though the reporters knew he was acting under pressure from Major League Baseball officials.

If something had happened at Shea last Thursday night, if a fan or player had been seriously injured, the tabloids would have been largely responsible. It seems at times that the sports reporters are hellbent on turning every sporting event into the World Wrestling Federation Smackdown.

Never outdone when it comes to making a mountain out of a molehill, Norman Siegel, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, held a protest outside of Shea.

Siegel felt compelled to make a statement against the bigotry that permeated Rocker's interview. Who was he trying to impress? New York fans already hate Rocker. Everybody and their mother has denounced his comments, even Rocker himself.

Rocker was right about one thing: it was a shame that the controversy surrounding his interview distracted from a terrific series between the two best teams in the National League East.

More importantly, it is a shame that this city seems so in need of someone to hate.

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