The new season of Survivor: San Juan del Sur will feature all new players, but among the cast are a few familiar faces. And the most familiar — and controversial — is former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker (who will be competing with his girlfriend Julie McGee). Rocker pitched for the Atlanta Braves in the 1999 World Series in a losing effort against the New York Yankees, but the closer made even bigger headlines in a Sports Illustrated article that came out later that year.
After being asked whether he would ever consider playing in New York, Rocker was quoted as saying, “I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”
Since Survivor is so much about the impressions strangers make on each other, I asked Rocker out on location in Nicaragua the day before filming began if he was worried that people would recognize him and judge him on that article. Here’s what he said:
“Not really. I see these folks that I’m getting ready to play this game with as very similar to the 13 years of professional baseball that I played, and the teammates that I played with. Some of my biggest supporters after that SI debacle were my current and past teammates. I probably had 40 odd teammates come to my defense and say ‘No, we’ve known this guy for 5, 10, 15 years. He’s a great guy. We’ve had Thanksgiving dinners with him, we’ve traveled with him, yada, yada, yada.’ And those are the people that are very similar to what we’ll be doing on Survivor — almost a clubhouse atmosphere and situation. You’re with people the majority of the day, all day, every day for an extended period of time. My current and past teammates liked me so much they would come to my adamant defense after that article. I think once these people get to know me, they will be willing to defend me as well.”
Rocker is definitely an outspoken guy, so I also asked him if he thought that outspokenness could be a problem in a game in which you want to get along with everybody and not create waves. “I don’t think I’m going to have to tone anything down,” he told me. “As long as I am not grossly edited, I’ll come across not as an obnoxious loudmouth, but ‘Yeah, okay, I don’t agree with what he says, but it actually kind of makes sense and I see where he’s coming from.’”
Rocker also says his controversial past has been blown out of proportion. “You talk about the controversy and whatever else, that was one article. There was never an article or any TV appearance or radio show appearance or anything like that before it or after it. It was one…. If you see the beginning, the middle and the end of my personality, sense of humor, demeanor and the way I treat people, you wouldn’t have had the whole Sports Illustrated saga as it played out.”
We’ll have to wait until Survivor: San Juan del Sur premieres Sept. 24 on CBS to see the beginning, middle and end of Rocker’s journey in the game, but you can watch him talk more about the infamous Sports Illustrated article and if it will follow him into the game by clicking on the video player below. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.