By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - John Rocker, who never fit in when he joined the Cleveland Indians last season, was traded to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday for minor league pitcher Dave Elder.
Rocker, whose remarks on racial, ethnic and sexual minorities in a magazine article led to his suspension for two weeks in 2000, will be reunited in Texas with new Rangers general manager John Hart.
"I'm really excited about it," Rocker said in a conference call from Puerto Rico, where he is pitching in a winter league. "I had a feeling I might at some point in my career end up in Texas. It happened sooner rather than later."
Rocker will also now be a teammate with volatile outfielder Carl Everett, who went to Texas in a trade earlier this month from Boston.
"Part of what you do when you put together a championship club is get players who are emotional, intense, driven performers," said Hart, who made it clear he values talent first when judging prospective players.
"We certainly aren't going into this blind," Hart said. "We know there are going to be issues. We feel our organization is prepared to accept those issues. It goes back to second chances."
As Cleveland's GM, Hart acquired Rocker from the Atlanta Braves in June for pitchers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed.
But the deal backfired on Hart, who thought adding the left-handed Rocker might finally get the Indians their first World Series title since 1948.
Mark Shapiro, who was Hart's assistant in Cleveland and replaced him as GM, said he was against Rocker ever coming to Cleveland.
"My advice to John Hart was not to make the trade," Shapiro said Tuesday. "My advice had nothing to do with the character issue or the ethical issue. We took a core, stable strength of our team and disrupted it. I felt it was not a wise move."
Hart went after Rocker again after failing to sign potential closers Jason Isringhausen and Karsay, instead settling for Jay Powell and Todd Van Poppel to set up incumbent closer Jeff Zimmerman.
"I don't think we acquired John with the idea we have a set role," Hart said. "We didn't make this with the idea he will come in and supplant Jeff Zimmerman."
Rocker pitched poorly in Cleveland, going just 3-7 with four saves and a 5.45 ERA in 38 games. He was handed the closer's job upon arrival, but ended up giving it back to Bob Wickman.
Rocker, 27, was never really accepted by his Indians teammates, either. And after saying he was thankful for a fresh start with the Cleveland media, he rarely granted interviews.
Rocker became a distraction in the clubhouse during the AL playoffs. First, he threw water on fans taunting him during Game 1 in Seattle and compounded problems by clashing with Wickman over some remarks he made.
When the Indians signed Wickman to a three-year contract last month, it became clear that Rocker was no longer part of their future.
Shapiro tried to work out a deal last week at the winter meetings in Boston and reportedly talked with Texas, Los Angeles and the Chicago Cubs about Rocker.
But in the end, he had to turn to Hart, his former boss, to get rid of Rocker.
If the Indians hadn't been able to trade Rocker, they would have had to offer him a new contract by Thursday or he would have become a free agent.
Rocker was fined and suspended for two weeks at the start of the 2000 season after making disparaging remarks about gays, minorities and others in a Sports Illustrated interview.
Asked Tuesday how the backlash from that article has changed him, he said: "I don't think there was a need for more maturity. It was a complete fluke. I don't think I was given a fair shake.
"I'm the same person. Ask people who know me and they'll tell you I'm a good guy."
Rocker, who was leading the NL in saves when he was traded by Atlanta on June 22, is in Puerto Rico working on a new pitch. Last week, he said he wouldn't be surprised if he never gets to use it for the Indians.
The 26-year-old Elder, a right-hander, split last season between the Rangers' Tulsa (AA) and Oklahoma (AAA) affiliates. He went 9-10 in 28 games.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)