MILWAUKEE, AUG. 5 -- Minnesota pitcher Joe Niekro was assessed a 10-day suspension by American League President Bobby Brown today for scuffing baseballs.
Niekro immediately announced he would appeal the suspension, meaning he will make his next scheduled start Friday in Oakland while a one-on-one meeting with Brown is arranged.
But after today's game with California in Anaheim, Niekro said he may not follow through with the appeal if a hearing date would jeopardize his playoff eligibility.
Niekro said that if a hearing were scheduled for late August and his suspension upheld, he might be off the roster on Sept. 1.
"If I'm not on the roster Sept. 1, I may not be eligible for the playoffs," Niekro said. "We'll just have to wait and see."
Asked whether he would feel compelled to accept the suspension if such a scheduling conflict occurs, Niekro said: "I'd have to, really. I just have to wait and talk" to Twins executive vice president Andy MacPhail.
"I really haven't found out what was in the report," Niekro said. "We're going to talk with MacPhail tomorrow, find out how the rotation goes and when the hearing will be."
The suspension was issued from league headquarters in New York after Brown inspected five scuffed balls thrown by Niekro and an emery board and piece of sandpaper he'd had in his pocket during a game Monday night in Anaheim.
Although several pitchers have been accused of scuffing balls the past two years, Niekro is the first to be suspended since Seattle's Rick Honeycutt was suspended 10 days after being found with a thumbtack taped to his hand in 1980.
The last pitcher to be suspended for throwing an illegal pitch was Gaylord Perry, who was suspended for 10 days in 1982 for throwing a spitball.
Niekro was ejected during the fourth inning of a game Monday night against the California Angels. Home plate umpire Tim Tschida said he noticed odd movement on several pitches and kept six balls with scuff marks before going to the mound and searching Niekro.
After Niekro emptied his pockets, the emery board and sandpaper were found. Niekro said he has always carried them with him.
"I'll be honest with you. I always carry two things out there with me: an emery board and a small piece of sandpaper," Niekro said Monday. "I've done that ever since I started throwing the knuckleball. Being a knuckleball pitcher, I sometimes have to file my nails between innings, so I carry an emery board with me to the mound."
Brown would not comment further than a two-paragraph statement announcing the suspension.
"We're low-keying it," said league spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige. She said the suspension was based on a report by the umpiring crew, examination of five baseballs thrown by Niekro, the sandpaper and emery board and a videotape of the game.
Knuckleballers aren't usually accused of scuffing baseballs, and Texas' Charlie Hough said this week that he has carried an emery board in his pocket, as well.
"He's used an emery board ever since I've known him," said Houston reliever Dave Smith of Niekro, his teammate for several years on the Astros. "He's been doing it for years. He'd always have it with him. He'd use it between innings to file his nails, which all knuckleball pitchers do. He never tried to hide it. I mean, how do you hide a five-inch emery board?"
Astros pitcher Mike Scott has been accused of throwing scuffballs for two years. He has denied the charges, and today he defended Niekro.
"When he pitched here, nobody made a big deal about it," Scott said. "Why would he take an emery board out there to scuff a ball with? You might as well take a hacksaw. It would be just as inconspicuous."