Two days before Thanksgiving, at Local 138, one of our favorite watering holes in New York City, we sat down with, of all people, famed immigration expert John Rocker, and talked for about an hour. Really. We did this. See? Sometimes we interview people.
Why did we decide to interview Rocker? Well, the interview took place just a day after Michael Richards' famed "fork up your ass" performance at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, and we thought maybe he could shed some light on the situation. He also is promoting, uh, something right now, his "Speak English" campaign, an attempt not to change his image but, you know, enhance it. It's clear Rocker would like to be a Fox News talking head, and he's in the process of writing a book expounding his worldviews. And also: We thought it would be fun to see what kind of drink Rocker would order. (Mandarin Absolute and Red Bull; not much of a surprise there.)
He was accompanied by his girlfriend, African-American model Alicia Marie (pictured), who chimes in occasionally during the interview. She's a lovely woman, and awfully nice. (She ordered a Diet Coke.) After the jump, our entire hour-long interview with Rocker, mostly unedited, except for when a question we asked made us sound like an idiot, in which case we edited it up to make ourselves look witty and charming. We were going to have a surreal picture of us, Rocker and Alicia to accompany this story, but we had a few too many Newcastles and forgot to take one. We're such an exceptional journalist.
It's long, but we hope you find it worth your while. Maybe. Enjoy.
Hey, thanks for meeting up with me. Cheers. Welcome to New York. How long are you here?
Through Sunday, actually.
Where you having Thanksgiving?
At her parents' place (points at Alicia Marie).
Really? Uh, have you met her parents before?
Yeah. I've met the younger sister, and both parents. I've met her mom once, her dad twice and her younger sister went to dinner with us three weeks ago.
Uh ... do they like you?
Alicia chimes in: I was initially worried about my dad.
I can imagine.
Alicia: But my dad, like, loves him.
Rocker: Yeah, we all went out dinner and had a great time.
Yeah. They really like me. They're really nice people.
Alicia. I grew up in Connecticut. They're the only black Republicans on earth.
Did you guys really meet when John was pitching against me in
Herald Square Bryant Park? I'm really pissed you struck me out, by the way. My excuse is that it was really cold outside.
Well, when it warms up, let's try it again. Yeah, you were wearing the Rick Ankiel jersey, right? Sorry about that. I don't know what happened to that kid. The first game he disintegrated was against us, actually, back in 2000. They ended up winning that game, though in the first three innings he had, like, eight walks. The media got on him so bad. After they beat us, they kept showing the highlights over and over. I guess he probably watched all the press about himself, and when he came back in Spring Training, that's all they could talk about.
Anyway, yeah, we met there. I haven't actually picked up a ball since that day.
Really? You haven't pitched once? Not even in your backyard or something? Do you miss it?
I miss parts of it. When I watch the playoffs I miss it, but when I watch Game 146 in the middle of August, I'm glad to be out at the beach instead. There's part you miss and parts you're happy are gone.
Do you still talk to any current players?
Yeah, tons. I just talked to Mark DeRosa, who just signed a big deal with the Cubs. I talk to Ryan Klesko a good bit. John Smoltz every once in a while, Dave Burba, Andruw Jones, Steve Woodard, he got married about a month ago.
What's your schedule a lot like now? You seem to be in New York a lot, with Alicia around.
I'm here at least twice a month. She's my main business up here, but I'm meeting with my literary agent. I think I found an editor we feel comfortable with editing. I do a lot of work with a venture capital guy here too, and I'm always doing radio interviews and what-not.
And you two met when she was interviewing you? Because I want to make it clear that I'm not hitting on either one of you.
Yeah, all of her questions were, "Do you have a girlfriend?" "Would you like my number?" I just looked down her shirt, saw what I needed to see and moved on. (Laughs.) I took a leap of faith, because she had a long coat on, and she could have had big birthin' hips or something.
But I found her, and here we are. The hips are fine.
Yes. Want another drink?
OK. Let's talk about the 7 train story, of course. What I find amazing about the aftermath of the story, and this is what I wrote in the Deadspin piece, was that Americans love second acts. No matter what a celebrity does, if they say they're sorry for it, and seem legitimately apologetic, we tend to root for them to recover, at least until they screw up again. But that never happened with you. You gave that interview, and from every day since then until now, you were The Racist. You never got a second act. I'm not saying you necessarily deserved one, but people usually don't deserve one. Why do you think that interview just set it all in stone like that? Did you ever try to resalvage your reputation? Are you still trying? Is that what the book is for?
Naw, I don't think the book will help with that, and I don't care. The book is more conservative Republican rantings. The Bill O'Reillys of the world, they will appreciate it, the Rush Limbaughs of the world will appreciate it, but, unfortunately, most members of the media - well, I don't know what you are politically.
I'm an agnostic. Politics terrify me.
Well, anyway, those liberal media people, they'll appreciate some things, but I am a Republican. I'm not Republican in everything - I mean, look at my girlfriend - and I'm not a huge pro-lifer, but I think 95 percent-plus of the media is liberal, and they see me as the antichrist of liberal views. It's much easier for them to just keep piling on than to look closer and realize that, hey, we might have been wrong about this guy.
It seemed that people felt like you were an outlet for their own sublimated racism. They were like, "Well, we must not be too bad, because we're not nearly as bad as this guy."
It was much easier to label me than sit down like you're doing and actually talk to me. It's a lot easier to label and move on. There are two or three hot-button issues in this country that people feel like they need eradicate, and racism is one of them. So when you have someone like me who has said something, or has betrayed themselves to be such, if you can label them as The Racist, well, Katie bar the door, because we're going after him. Liberal America, which is probably 90 percent plus of the media, that is their end-all, be-all of expressing themselves as liberals. They're all "happy, everybody get along, everybody mesh into one big happy union." When these comments were made years and years ago, it became easier to label than to sit down and wonder, "OK, what is really going on in this guy's head." That's what a huge purpose for this book is going to be. Yeah, these things were said, but these were the 45 minutes worth of context that surrounded those things that were said. You can make anything look bad when you just strip it out.
To be fair, you are promoting a campaign called "Speak English." That's hardly the type of thing that's going to change your image. You did choose that. That wasn't a misquote.
I'm not looking to pop any bubbles about myself; people are gonna think what they're gonna think. I came to that realization about a year and a half ago. I was doing Hannity and Colmes, and because of that SI interview, I had been tiptoeing around every interview I did just to make sure I didn't say the wrong thing. I did that throughout that whole interview, and on the way home, I realized, "You know, I'm retired. You can't get me. You can't picket where I work or play. You can't fire me. I don't have to be politically correct anymore." I realized I didn't have to worry about whether or not the minorities were mad at me. If I wanna say it, it's gonna get said. If you wanna not like me because of it, then oh well.
Alicia, I have to ask: Do you agree with all his political views?
Alicia: Well, there are many things we disagree on, yes, but at least I see where he's coming from. I feel like part of my job with him is to help people get past this whole "He's John Rocker" thing, because anything that comes out of his mouth is going to be misconstrued, no matter what he says. I want to help facilitate that.
Rocker: Well, it's not like it's her job or anything. It's not like I said, "Well, I need to hire a black girlfriend to make me look better."
People have said that.
Yeah, she's gotten lots of emails. I wish she weren't so accessible on the Web, actually. Honestly, I don't understand why people are so interested in me, and what I'm doing, and who I'm dating. But people mostly misinterpret the fact that I just don't care. If I were still playing and needed to worry about my image, I might pull some shit like this, dating a black girl, just to throw the old Jedi mind trick on people. I'm out of the public eye now. People's opinions aren't that important to me, I'm not gonna do something like this just to change the opinion of people I don't care about.
When you guys walk down the street, and people see that you're John Rocker, do they say anything?
I don't ever make eye contact with people on the street. I've become like a New Yorker in that way. People want to say, "Hey, has John Rocker changed, has he turned over a new leaf?" I haven't changed at all. I don't understand why it's so hard for journalists to admit that I haven't changed; they were just wrong. Maybe they made me change by writing an article or something. That song by Joe Walsh, "Life's Been Good To Me So Far," that's totally how it is. I haven't changed.
Just to ask for the millionth time: Do you regret the interview? You didn't really pitch much after that.
If it would have been portrayed in the correct version, no. The way the sucker punch was done, yeah, it was horseshit. Every dark cloud has a sun behind it, though; there's a lot of things I can do now that I wouldn't have been able to do had it not been for that article. It's opened a lot of doors. I know a lot of players who had a lot better careers than me, but when they retired, you never see or hear from them again. For some reason, people still have interest in me. Without that article, I wouldn't be writing a book. When you go into a restaurant and the maitre'd says, "Come on in, sit down," that's when you don't mind it. When you're at Bungalow 8, and the bouncer won't let you in because he's Dominican, well, that's when it's not so good.
That really happened?
Yeah, even though two or three of my best friends are Dominican or Puerto Rican. And her, of course. (points to Alicia)
Did any players ever give you any crap about the interview?
Not really. Most players have been misquoted before, so they know how it goes. It happens on some scale to pretty much everybody.
So when I told most of my friends who don't know anything about sports that I was interviewing you, they all knew who you were and wanted me to ask you about Michael Richards.
Well, it was bad, but I bet he ends up getting work in a few years. That's not what happened to me. People still bring it up today all the time. People act like they're gonna "get me" or something. Journalists act like they're the first person to ask me about racism. I apologized and everything, but it didn't stick. I think it's because I was a white man from the South. My favorite show is South Park, and those guys are probably liberals, they're from Canada, but their perception is that the South is dumb, ignorant hicks. They don't see it as the cultural center that it really is. The liberal side of things, they try to pin the South as the racist place in the world. We can connect John Rocker to the South, which equals racist, which equals John Rocker is a racist. The South is just a bunch of fucking racists, that's what they want to see it as, and I just got caught up in that. Michael Richards is lucky he's not from the South. If I'd been Ozzie Guillen, no one would have cared. But I'm not. I'm from the South. It's just a gross double standard. I have a chapter in my book about double standards.
How far along with the book are you?
I've got about 70 pages written. I've put it on hold for a bit until I find a publisher. When the deal is done, I'll finish it up over the course of the next couple of months. That's the thing, though: When people have an agenda, that's all that matters. Jeff Pearlman is who he is: A liberal Jew from New York. He's one of their own, who spent a couple of hours with me, pulled things out of context, and you're trying to create a persona of an individual when you don't know them. You look at Michael Irvin, and Michael's a friend of mine -
You're friends with Michael Irvin? Really?
I would like to watch you two talk to one another.
He's a very nice guy. I see him at a lot of parties. Anyway, it's not like when he goes on to do his morning show, people don't call him the crackhead womanizer, though he's been caught twice with cocaine and prostitutes. I've heard from people who have worked with him on movie sets that it's not a once-in-a-while type of thing, that it's more of a lifestyle thing. So I sit back amazed that people still don't give me any slack on it.
I'm not sure how long your friendship with Michael Irvin is going to last.
No, we're friends, we're friends. Honestly, people in this world just need to stop being so sensitive. Sure, if you go take a lead pipe to someone because they're a different ethnicity than you, then yes, you've got problems. But someone's gonna call me a cracker or a honky? Come on. I'd think the Islamic religion is the most sensitive group of people ever. These people lose their minds over anything. I'd like to see someone make a comment about Muslims, Muslims get mad, and have the person say, "Take it, and ram it right up your ass. Get pissed all you want, I'm not taking it back." You see people ripping on Jesus or the Virgin Mary or Jewish religious stuff, and people can take it. Get on Muslims, though, they get on you quick. At some point, someone needs to just be irreverent. I like Carlos Mencia, I like Dave Chappelle, they can dish it out and have fun with it. The crying and bitching and whining for people to not express their dislike of you, it's no way to bring people around to you.
Do you think if the story hadn't come out, you'd still be playing?
I don't think so. When I played in Long Island last year, I stunk, man. It had been two years since my shoulder surgery, and I was throwing 88 mph on a good day. It would take me 40 minutes to get loosened up for one inning. The shoulder would have blown out regardless. In 2000, I had an ERA under 3.00. The next year I led the league in saves. But then I got traded to Cleveland, and I was pissed to leave Atlanta. I pitched well for the first month I was there, then I stunk, and then I went to Texas, and I was kind of pouting.
If it hadn't been for the story, you might have stayed in Atlanta.
Yeah. [Braves general manager] John Schuerholz traded me. He's a real asshole. I'm gonna absolutely crucify him in my book. The credibility that guy receives for the Atlanta Braves dynasty ... he is an imbecile. Every player who took that team to the playoffs were people who were already there. All his good acquisitions were no-brainers. Scheurholz tries to take all the credit, but he's a complete moron. It's amazing he gets so much credit for it. We had a bad arbitration case, he and I. He just sat there and motherfucked me to death, you suck, you're horrible, and I lost the case. I never spoke to him again. He'd walk right by me and say, "Hi, John," and I'd just ignore him. He has the worst case of Little Man Syndrome I've ever met. He's about 5-foot-5. He's a piece of shit.
I don't know why I'm asking this, but what do you think of the war?
I'd like to go into politics someday. I'm a little young now, but I think I'd be good for it and people would get behind me. I'm not a George Bush fan, but I'd like to see him work with the left a little more. But we need to help those people. They were living under the iron fist of a dictator, and we have to help them. But I don't know. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't type thing. But it's Islam and the Middle East. It's not gonna get better.
Thank you for your time, sir.
Thank you. Congratulations on your Cardinals, by the way.