'Disappointed' O's Release Ponson

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005

BALTIMORE, Sept. 1 -- The Baltimore Orioles placed troubled pitcher Sidney Ponson on unconditional release waivers Thursday and moved to terminate his contract, ending a tumultuous second tenure with the club and likely setting up a legal battle with the players' union.

The Orioles cited "conduct which violates the terms of his uniform players contract" in seeking to void the three-year, $22.5 million deal Ponson signed before the 2004 season. If successful, the Orioles would save the $10 million owed him next season.

Ponson, 28, was not available to comment and his agent, Barry Praver, did not return a phone call.

"This is not about finances," Orioles legal counsel Russell Smouse said. "This is about conduct that violates his contractual obligations and his responsibilities as a major league baseball player. His alcohol-related conduct has been well demonstrated. If he clears waivers, we will terminate his contract. Our salary obligations to him will terminate."

Ponson's arrest for driving under the influence on Aug. 25 -- his third alcohol-related arrest since December -- led to the release, Smouse said.

On Christmas Day, Ponson was arrested in his home country of Aruba for punching a judge. Weeks later, Ponson was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for driving under the influence. Ponson was also arrested on DUI charges in 1996 when he was a minor leaguer in the Baltimore system.

"We are extremely disappointed that it's come to this," Smouse said. "It's for the overall benefit of the team."

The Orioles will face a challenge from the union. Mike Weiner, general counsel for the union, said, "there will be a grievance" filed on the matter, though he had not yet reviewed the paperwork from Ponson's release.

"It's a clear violation of the [bargaining] agreement," Weiner said.

The Colorado Rockies in December attempted to void the $19 million owed pitcher Denny Neagle, who was arrested for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. The union filed a grievance and the sides settled the matter before the arbitrator ruled. Neagle was paid $16 million.

Baltimore does not appear willing to settle with Ponson and one team source said the Orioles would go to arbitration if necessary. The source said no negotiations for a settlement or a buyout between the team and Ponson took place since last week's arrest.

"We feel we have ample legal cause," Smouse said. "The facts and evidence is compelling that he is in violation of conduct. We think our position is right and justified."

The question will be whether Ponson's actions violate paragraph 7(1)b of the uniform player's contract, which allows a club to terminate a contract if a player should "fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship." Paragraph 3(a) of that contract also states, "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."

Ponson is 7-11 this year with a 6.21 ERA and was not expected to pitch again this season because of a torn ligament in his right thumb.

Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said he hoped the team, which has also dealt with Rafael Palmeiro's steroid suspension recently, could finally focus on saving its season. Since Palmeiro's suspension on Aug. 1, Baltimore, prior to Thursday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, is 11-17.

"I think we've had a lot of distractions and I have no doubt in my mind that has affected our performance," Beattie said.

Beattie said the team will likely look to the free agent market this winter to replace Ponson. "It would be a good offseason for us to add some pitching," he said.

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