Great long read on Bleacher Report from Jeff Pearlman, author of an infamous December 1999 Sports Illustrated feature on then-Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker. Pearlman’s original SI piece was spiked, but when his editor assigned him to revisit Rocker after the end of that year’s MLB season, the floodgates opened in the form of a mountain of controversial quotes.
Despite subsequent accusations and denials by Rocker, Pearlman restates for the record that nothing was taken out of context or “pieced together.” He also runs down three “funny” things about article, starting with this fascinating bit of issue obfuscation:
The piece ran in the final Sports Illustrated issue of the 20th century — which included, arguably, the biggest undertaking in the magazine’s history. Bill Colson, the managing editor, wanted to compile a list of the top 50 athletes of the century for every state, coupled with 50 different covers. The daunting (and truly awful) task of finding and ranking the athletes fell upon three of us—myself, Steve Cannella and Mark Bechtel.
We spent weeks digging through the massive Sports Illustrated library, looking for, oh, three more athletes from South Dakota, or a No. 50 to fill out Delaware. When the project was completed, the publicity department — for the first time ever — outsourced some of the marketing effort, convinced that hundreds upon hundreds of interview requests would besiege the office. In the wake of Rocker, there was one 50-athlete request — from an AM radio station in Utah.
Meanwhile, on the day of publication, Pearlman came back to 73 answering machine messages and from there, there were NYC tabloid headlines, a Rocker suspension, a Rocker fine, a Will Ferrell SNL impersonation and much more. Read the full piece here to find out what happened when Pearlman finally reached out to Rocker years later, in 2011, via email.