Orioles are seeking a way to shed troubling Ponson

Pitcher again accused of drinking and driving

August 26, 2005|By Dan Connolly and Roch Kubatko | Dan Connolly and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Angered by troubled pitcher Sidney Ponson's second drunken-driving arrest in seven months, the Orioles are exploring several options to be rid of him, including voiding the remainder of his hefty contract, club sources said yesterday.

After Ponson's arrest yesterday morning on charges of driving while impaired and driving under the influence - his third drinking-and-driving arrest in nine years and third overall arrest in nine months - members of the Orioles front office met at owner Peter G. Angelos' downtown law office to discuss a course of action.

The club officials, described as "extremely angry" by one source, apparently did not reach a conclusion. But their favored option might be invoking standard clauses in Ponson's three-year, $22.5 million contract that would void his $10 million final season because of conduct detrimental to the team or an inability to stay in shape, two club sources said.

If they choose that path, however, they almost certainly would face a grievance from the Major League Baseball Players Association on behalf of Ponson.

An independent arbiter would then decide whether Ponson's actions were in specific violation of the contract. Based on precedent, voiding a binding agreement is nearly impossible, one industry source said. But if anyone could do it, the source said, "it would be the owner," referring to Angelos, an accomplished attorney.

Even if Ponson, 28, who is on the disabled list with calf and thumb injuries, remains with the team, he could be facing a suspension for leaving the bench and going to a club level suite at Camden Yards during Wednesday's game.

According to several ballpark sources, Ponson left the clubhouse in uniform pants and an Orioles pullover jacket during the first half of Wednesday's game and joined friends in the fourth-level suite No. 22, which he periodically rents.

He stayed between one and two innings before rejoining the team. One ballpark source said he was drinking soda and not alcohol while in the suite. It was at least the second time he has visited the suite during a game, another ballpark source said.

Interim manager Sam Perlozzo said he still needs to set some team policies, but, "I would assume if you are here and in uniform, you are on the bench."

He did not notice Ponson's absence from the dugout Wednesday but said when informed of the report: "If that's true, I would think that is grounds for a suspension."

Finished for season

Because of his injuries, Ponson, 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA in 23 starts, probably won't pitch again this season. His career here, which began in 1998, also is likely over. The team attempted to deal him to San Diego for first baseman Phil Nevin in July, but Nevin would not lift his limited no-trade clause.

Now, given his physical and legal problems and pitching struggles since signing his deal in 2003, a club source said Ponson is un-tradable. The club is hoping that will change next spring, but it would prefer having the Ponson saga resolved before then.

It could give him his outright release, but the Orioles would have to pay most of his full salary next season - even if he plays in 2006 with another team. The Orioles almost certainly wouldn't do that, a source said.

That leaves the voiding option, something the club considered twice before: Once last summer when Ponson's weight ballooned to more than 260 pounds and after his January DUI arrest in Florida was reported.

It is a drastic move and one that never comes without opposition from the players union. If the move is grieved, an arbiter's decision would be final, but the sides could settle before then. A union spokesman declined to comment regarding Ponson.

Dealing with a disgruntled employer might be the least of Ponson's worries, however.

Maryland Transportation Authority police arrested him at 1:31 a.m. on traffic charges of following too closely, DUI and DWI on southbound Interstate 95, said Cpl. Pamela Thorne, a spokeswoman for the agency. A team source said Ponson had left Rick's Cafe Americain in Canton, but an employee at the bar wouldn't confirm yesterday that the pitcher had been there.

An officer spotted Ponson, who was driving a black 2005 Mercedes Benz in the southbound lanes, and pulled him over in an area just south of Interstate 395. The officer, who did not recognize Ponson, conducted a field sobriety test, "the results of which gave the officer enough probable cause to take him into custody," said John Ryan, a transportation authority spokesman.

According to the report, Ponson was following less than half a car length behind a Volkswagen, according to the police report. When asked how much he had to drink, Ponson said: "I had three beers at the bar, and my last beer was 20 minutes ago." Asked why he was so close to the other car, Ponson replied, "I was following my girlfriend home."

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