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Rocker suspended until May 1

Reliever releases statement through agents: "I do not believe (suspension) is appropriate "

John Rocker was suspended until May 1 by baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Monday for racial and ethnic remarks that "offended practically every element of society."

The Atlanta Braves' reliever also was fined $20,000 and ordered to undergo sensitivity training for disparaging foreigners, homosexuals and minorities in a magazine interview.

The players' union said it intends to fight the ruling.

"Major League Baseball takes seriously its role as an American institution and the important social responsibility that goes with it," Selig said.

"We will not dodge our responsibility. Mr. Rocker should understand that his remarks offended practically every element of society and brought dishonor to himself, the Atlanta Braves and major league baseball. The terrible example set by Mr. Rocker is not what our great game is about and, in fact, is a profound breach of the social compact we hold in such high regard."

The players' association said it expects to file a grievance over the penalty, believed to be the longest against a baseball player for an action not related to drug use since Lenny Randle of Texas got 30 days in March 1977 for punching his manager, Frank Lucchesi.

"I do not believe it is appropriate that I should be harshly disciplined for my misguided speech unaccompanied by any conduct on my part," Rocker said in a statement released by his agents. "I have previously apologized for my unfortunate remarks and stand by my apology."

A grievance would force the matter before Shaym Das, the sport's new independent arbitrator.

"We have been in consultation with Mr. Rocker and it is our present intention to appeal," said Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. "It is literally unprecedented to impose a penalty on a player for pure speech, offensive though the speech may be. That, coupled with the magnitude of the penalty, just as unprecedented, makes us optimistic about the outcome of the appeal."

Such an action is the opposite of what Henry Aaron thinks should happen.

"I am saddened that the players' association may appeal, even if they are thinking about filing a grievance," Aaron said. "I think they are making a sad mistake to appeal. The players' association should say, "We are sorry this happened,' then go on. The association should just move on.

"Appealing this just drags this thing out more. Baseball just finished two of the greatest seasons in the history of the game. Now we drag this thing out. It just doesn't make any sense. It's like cancer. It continues to eat, eat, eat. It's time to get it over with and done with."

With the Braves' season to start April 3, the suspension will last 28 days. A suspension will not affect his salary, expected to be between $200,000 and $300,000.

"It really is about what I anticipated happening," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said of the penalty.

The 25-year-old pitcher was barred from joining the Braves at spring training. A high-ranking baseball official, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said the commissioner's office did not want Rocker to report with other Braves' pitchers and catchers, thus minimizing the number of media descending on Kissimmee when camp opens Feb. 17.

Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, disputed that, saying it was not a factor.

Braves president Stan Kasten said he hoped Rocker will not appeal.

"I hope we can separate the legal ramifications from John personally," Kasten said. "It's most important to get through this thing and get through it successfully. That's much more important than winning a couple of days."

Rocker's comments drew a strong response from Braves executive Hank Aaron and civil rights groups. Several Braves players have said they expect Rocker to have a difficult time when he rejoins the team.

"We believe that even after this process is complete, there are two hurdles that remain," Kasten said. "John still has to reconcile himself with his teammates. After that, he has to reconcile himself with the community. It's not automatic. But with the right effort and the right attitude, I think it's possible."

The pitcher, whose fine will go to groups that promote diversity, was ordered by Selig on Jan. 6 to undergo psychological tests, but the results of those tests have not been disclosed.

Kasten and Schuerholz met two weeks ago with seven senior members of the NL champs.

"The consensus in that room was that while they believed John should be punished in some fashion, they were willing to give him a second chance as a teammate," Schuerholz said.

Rocker said in a Sports Illustrated story published last month that he would never play for a New York team because he didn't want to ride a subway train "next to some queer with AIDS." He also said, "I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. How the hell did they get in this country?"

He also called a black teammate a "fat monkey."

Braves owner Ted Turner has said Rocker deserves a second chance, and pointed out the reliever had apologized.

"I don't think we ought to hold it against him forever," Turner said. "He didn't commit a crime."

ANGELS: Infielder Carlos Garcia agreed to a minor league contract and will attend spring training as a non-roster invitee.

METS: The team agreed to a one-year, $210,000 contract with infielder Mike Kinkade.

PHILLIES: Outfielder prospect Reggie Taylor, a first-round pick in the 1995 amateur draft, is expected to miss about seven months after arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder.

PIRATES: Newly acquired journeyman Wil Cordero will play in rightfield rather than third base, thus clearing the way for prospect Aramis Ramirez to start but possibly forcing Chad Hermansen back to the minors, manager Gene Lamont said.

Also, owner Kevin McClatchy said the team has nearly doubled season-ticket sales from this time a year ago, selling 9,137 plans _ up from 4,975 in 1999.

ROCKIES: Shortstop Neifi Perez agreed to a one-year contract worth $2,212,500.

TWINS: Outfielder Butch Huskey, let go by Boston last month, agreed to a minor league contract.

YANKEES: The team signed right-handed pitcher Mike Grace to a minor-league contract and invited him to their major-league spring-training camp.

UMPIRES: Richie Phillips and the Major League Umpires Association won't decide until Friday whether to file another appeal to overturn the election that kicked them out last November.

Friday is the deadline to appeal the decision of David E. Leach III, a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer who on Jan. 21 rejected the objections filed by Phillips and the MLUA.

Meanwhile, the new union has had about 50 umpires join, including former replacement umpires John Shulock and Darryl Cousins, said one of its lawyers, Joel Smith.

OBITUARY: John J. Gaherin, who represented owners when they lost the 1975 grievance that led to free agency, has died of Parkinson's disease. He was 85.

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