O's part ways with troubled Ponson

Club releases pitcher, cites off-field problems

Baseball

September 02, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - The Orioles reached a point where they ran out of patience with Sidney Ponson. Yesterday, he finally ran out of time.

The Orioles placed Ponson on unconditional release waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract, ending a relationship that began in 1993. In a one-sentence statement, they cited conduct that violated the terms of his uniform player contract, including three arrests since December.

Maryland Transportation Police arrested Ponson on Aug. 25 on traffic charges of driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated and following too close on southbound Interstate 95. Ponson failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breathalyzer. The infraction followed an arrest on DUI charges in January in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which the team didn't learn about until spring training.

Ponson also was arrested on Christmas Day in his native Aruba and accused of punching a judge during a dispute on a beach. He spent 11 days in jail, and the charges were dropped after he reached a settlement that included restitution, community service and contributions to local charities on the island.

Several team sources also noted that Ponson left the dugout at least twice during games to join friends in a suite that he rents at Camden Yards.

"We took this step only after careful and deliberate consideration of the facts surrounding his latest DUI charge and conduct over a period of time," said H. Russell Smouse, the team's general counsel. "We felt like we were left with no other recourse except to take this action. He has been guilty of repeated instances involving conduct which we feel is inconsistent with the responsibilities he has as a major league baseball player."

Ponson, 28, is owed another $10 million on the three-year contract he signed in January 2004, including $7.5 million in 2006, with the rest deferred. The players association is expected to file a grievance on his behalf. An independent arbitrator would then decide whether his actions were in specific violation of the contract.

"I can't speak to that," Smouse said. "I can only say we have ample legal cause and factual justification for the action we have taken."

Reached by phone last night, Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, told The Sun: "In conjunction with the players association, we will vigorously contest the grounds for Sidney's termination."

Michael Weiner, the general counsel of the players association, told the Associated Press: "We will clearly grieve it."

Pitching coach Ray Miller, who managed the Orioles when they called up Ponson from the minors in 1998, said it was "inevitable" something like this would happen.

"The way I look at it, you don't get near as many chances in real life," Miller said. "If you got one DUI, you'd probably lose your job. When you get two or three and you're in the public eye and making that kind of money, things are going to happen.

"The first thing he has to do is save his life, and then think about his career. But in the meantime, this is a business, and other people's lives are affected deeply. I'm one of the people who lost a job while he was going through the same thing, as did [Lee] Mazzilli and other managers and pitching coaches. Feeling sorry for someone isn't always in the picture when you know other people worked as hard as they could and got cheated by somebody. And eventually it cost him his career.

"So I can't feel any worse about that than I do about the other guys losing their jobs because he didn't live up to what he was supposed to do."

Every player on the 40-man roster signs a standard contract that includes a morals clause, paragraph 3(a), that reads: "The Player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently and faithfully, to keep himself in first-class physical condition and to obey the Club's training rules, and pledges himself to the American public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship."

No known precedent exists for voiding a sizable contract based on the morals clause, but a source close to the front office said majority owner Peter G. Angelos wouldn't go through the expense and publicity of a possible hearing if he didn't expect to win.

Angelos couldn't be reached for comment.

The Colorado Rockies tried to void pitcher Denny Neagle's contract after his arrest over the winter on a charge of solicitation of prostitution, 14 months after he was cited on a DUI charge. The players association filed a grievance, and the two sides settled during a break in the hearing. Neagle, who pitched at Arundel High, accepted $16 million of the $19 million owed on his contract, a record severance check in baseball.

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