Orioles' Riley arrested, demoted

Club terms move `disciplinary action' after incident at bar

March 26, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles yesterday assigned left-handed pitcher Matt Riley to their minor-league camp in Sarasota less than 48 hours after the troubled 20-year-old was sprayed with Mace, handcuffed and arrested on charges of disorderly conduct following an altercation with Fort Lauderdale police outside a beachfront nightclub.

Riley was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on the same day that he was scheduled to appear in a televised exhibition against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He met for almost an hour with vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and manager Mike Hargrove.

Of yesterday's option, Hargrove said: "Matt was not going to make the ballclub. The timing of it is a disciplinary action."

According to a complaint affidavit filed by the arresting officer, Riley and several others were told by Fort Lauderdale police to leave the Club Atlantis on South Highway A1A at 2: 34 a.m. Friday.

They refused and, according to the affidavit, began to argue. After police backup arrived, Riley allegedly shouted at the police that he was going to "kick our asses" and have his attorney file suit. The report said Riley then moved toward the officers, who responded by trying to place Riley under arrest.

The pitcher struggled with two officers as they attempted to handcuff him. He was then sprayed with Mace, according to the report.

Police transported Riley to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department jail, where he spent several hours in a cell before being released on his own recognizance. At least one of Riley's friends had to post a bond and was charged with offenses that included resisting arrest, according to a team source.

After saying Friday night that they were unaware of the details, club officials declined to comment on Riley's arrest until "we learn all the facts," according to Orioles executive vice president John Angelos.

The Orioles apparently knew enough to hustle Riley to Sarasota after stripping him of yesterday's scheduled relief appearance against the Dodgers.

While Thrift called Riley "a very good kid," the meeting with the pitcher was less forgiving.

Riley contradicted several portions of the report in the session with Thrift and Hargrove, saying he was sprayed with Mace after being handcuffed and denying that he cursed police, according to club sources.

Friday night, Riley described the incident as "a personal problem." Yesterday, he returned to the team hotel after his meeting with team officials and is expected to drive to Sarasota today.

Riley could not be reached for comment last night.

"I think he feels very badly about causing a problem," said Thrift. "He's a very good kid. He's a young man, 20 years old, who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't involve himself with drugs.

"He takes good care of himself physically except for one thing: He stays out. He's got nocturnal habits he has to correct. I sent him a picture of an owl and a picture of an eagle. You can't hoot with the owls and soar with the eagles. I want him to decide which he wants to be."

The incident was in contrast with a relatively placid two months under Hargrove. For Riley, it ended an eventful, but unproductive camp. He had received only one appearance after injuring his left biceps lifting weights and repeatedly elicited criticism from teammates over his habits.

Noting the otherwise smooth-running camp, Thrift classified Riley as "one stray sheep."

Punctuality had become an issue with Riley long before Friday morning's incident. A first tardy offense led to a clubhouse court sentencing him to arrive at the complex around 5: 15 a.m. with the team's trainers for a week. A second offense brought a fine from Hargrove.

"The manager has only a couple rules, and one of them is to be on time. And that seems like a small, insignificant thing to a person in life but in baseball it's very important to be on time," Thrift said.

Club officials had scrambled unsuccessfully to contact Riley Friday night at the team hotel, though the player did answer a reporter's call.

Thrift reached Riley through a roommate and told him to attend yesterday's 7: 30 a.m. meeting. Riley arrived on time for what became a stern reprimand. Thrift de- scribed Riley as "crushed" upon learning that he wouldn't make yesterday's appearance.

The Orioles thought enough of their top pitching prospect to promote him from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie to Baltimore last September, but were disappointed over his immaturity as well as a fatigued performance that led to a 7.36 ERA and 13 walks in 11 innings.

Riley, who signed for a $275,000 bonus in May 1998 as a draft-and-follow selection from the '97 draft, arrived in camp last month with only a slim chance of making the club.

However, he was allowed an extended stay to become more acclimated to a major-league environment. Instead, he became a clubhouse curiosity because of frequent flaunting of team rules and a traffic accident.

"Obviously, he wasn't getting the idea," Hargrove said.

Though Thrift insisted yesterday that Riley's habits do not include smoking, drinking or drugs, another club official confirmed increased concern over the attitude accompanying Riley's bleached hair, body piercings, numerous tattoos and 24KTARM vanity license plate.

The organization hopes these last few days will jar Riley. Thrift and Hargrove insisted that the incident does not represent a permanent blemish on Riley's future with the organization.

"Does that help him grow up? I think so. How quickly? I don't know," Hargrove said. "This kid has major-league ability, but I've seen a lot of kids with major-league ability.

"It wouldn't surprise me if at the All-Star break he was mature enough to come up. And it wouldn't surprise me if it was five years from now. I think it's very difficult to put a number on it."

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