With the ball in his court, suit settled

April 28, 2000|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

The case of the State of Maryland v. Allen Watson came at the end of the usual detritus before Judge Askew Gatewood Jr.: solicitation, stalking, unauthorized use. By the time the clerk called the Watson case, the tiny courtroom had emptied except for a handful of reporters.

They had raptly watched the earlier cases and the wry way Judge Gatewood dispatched them. He ordered a young girl who he convicted of prostitution to stop her tears; he knew they were for show. He put off to another day a case involving two women fighting over the same man so he could catch a glimpse of "Mr. Looks-So-Good." And he guaranteed two or three other defendants that they'd "wind up in prison stripes" if they didn't make restitution for their crimes.

But only the Watson case, which entailed charges of second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property, was considered newsworthy. That is because the Watson in question is a middling, $1.5 million a year, middle reliever with the New York Yankees.

Before a game at Camden Yards on the night of Sept. 28, Watson was warming up in leftfield when he spotted a sign in the first row of the stands, which was being carried by 16-year-old Cheryl Robbins. Notwithstanding the fact that New York was in first place, the sign said, "Yankees Suck." This offended Watson.

Allegedly, Watson then threw two fastballs at Cheryl from about 20 feet away. Cheryl, who was at the game with her father, Charles, said one of the balls hit the sign. Then, she said, Watson's fellow pitcher Jeff Nelson reached up and pulled the sign from her and the two Yankees set about ripping it apart.

Her father, a coach at a private Virginia school, pursued criminal charges against Watson and filed a lawsuit, claiming Cheryl had been traumatized. The day before the criminal trial, he said representatives of the pitchers had offered him $15,000 to drop the matter. Robbins refused. "It's not about money, it's about principle," he said. He wanted an apology. And $20,000.

So shortly after 3 o'clock, the blocky Watson, looking uncomfortable in a nubby three-piece suit, slipped into the back of the Southern District courtroom with the taller and slighter Nelson. As if on cue, a recess was called. Lawyers huddled, whispered and conferred. When the proceedings resumed, the prosecutor announced the matter had been resolved; the charges were dropped.

Afterwards, all the parties refused comment. That was the condition of the agreement. Was money changing hands? Had an apology been offered? No one would say. "I want to apologize to you guys for not being able to talk," Charles Robbins told the reporters. All Watson's lawyer would say was that baseball and the community had been well-served.

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