John Rocker, the controversial ex-MLB closer, was able to do pretty much what he hoped during the first episode of this season's "Survivor," which aired Wednesday night on CBS. That was, stay under the radar.
He helped his team with challenges, he mostly was a nobody as alliances were formed, nobody tried to vote him off in the "tribal council" part of the show, and, save for two competitors, no one seemed to notice the tall guy they knew as John was John Rocker, the ex-Atlanta Braves pitcher. The one who infamously ranted against gays, immigrants, New York and just about everyone else. The one who sells "Speak English" T-shirts.
When one of Rocker's "Survivor" mates did have a suspicion that he recognized Rocker, the outcome was glorious. It was Wes, a 23-year-old from Louisiana, young enough to have been a kid watching Rocker pitch for the Braves from 1998-2000. Wes' dad, drafted onto the opposing "Survivor" team, also recognized Rocker.
Wes knew he was talking to John Rocker (even though he couldn't quite count the number of letters in Rocker), but Rocker tried to pass himself off as John Wetteland (though he spelled it different, when pressed), an MLB closer whose career was winding down around the time Rocker's was taking off.
Here's a play-by-play of the oddly hilarious encounter when Wes confronts John:
WES: "What's your last name, John?"
WES: "Wetland. You sure?"
ROCKER: [raises hand in oath]
Then in a cutaway, Rocker says his plan is to lie about his identity: "I'd been hoping to skate through this game anonymous, unscathed, under the radar. If I'm recognized some of the other players in the game, I'm going to lie about it becuause I've not had a whole lot of anonymity for the last 18 years of my life." Rocker might have been able to drop the issue then, but his ego seemed to get in the way a little bit.
ROCKER: What do you think [my last name] is?
WES: I think it starts with an R.
ROCKER [in a cutaway]: "Wes busted me. It didn't take long. Two or three hours our here, he asked me, 'Your name's John, huh? What's your last name?' I'm like [hangs head]."
WES: Does it have five letters in it?
ROCKER: No. It's got uhh ...
WES: No, six
ROCKER: It's got seven — W-E-T-L-A-N-D.
WES: All right. I believe you. You just look like somebody I know.
Rocker could have stopped here too. Doesn't it seem like, contrary to what he says, Rocker wants to be recognized?
ROCKER: Someone you went to school with?
WES: Naw, I saw on TV once.
WES: He was the The Man. It was back in the day.
There it is! The ego play. And John Rocker couldn't resist it.
ROCKER: Back when the Braves were good.
WES: Back when the Braves were awesome.
ROCKER: Yeah, you got me.
WES: I thought so.
ROCKER: Keep it under your hat though, please.
Rocker's true identity didn't come up again after that, but you can be sure it'll get play in ensuing episodes of "Survivor." Considering Rocker has said he absolutely would not go on "Survivor" again, you have to figure things don't end wonderfully for him this season.
As for John Wetteland, he had a much more distinguished baseball career than Rocker. He won a World Series with the Yankees in 1996 and was the World Series MVP. He was a three-time All-Star and saved 330 games for the Yankees, Rangers, Expos and Dodgers.
It's not much of an addition, but Wetteland can now also say John Rocker pretended to be him on "Survivor" once. And misspelled his name. Proud day.
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