-- Only hours after learning his season was likely over because of a torn ligament in his right thumb, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson was arrested early Thursday morning by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and charged with driving while under the influence and driving while impaired. It is the third legal incident for Ponson involving alcohol since December.
According to a police statement, Ponson was driving his 2005 Mercedes Benz on I-95 in Baltimore when he was stopped by an officer at 1:31 a.m. for following another vehicle too closely. Ponson was asked to perform several sobriety tests, which he failed, and he was subsequently transported to the MdTA Police Tunnel Command for processing. Ponson was asked to take a Breathalyzer test there, and he refused. As a result, Ponson's driver's license was suspended for 120 days.
Ponson was released at 5:30 a.m. and reported to the Orioles clubhouse at approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday, 30 minutes after his teammates had taken the field to stretch. Ponson, as he has for almost two months, declined to speak to the media.
"I keep waiting for things to change with him but nothing's changed," Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said. "It's something he has to get straightened out. Obviously, something that serious happens again, it's a problem."
Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie and Vice President Mike Flanagan, who were both unavailable for comment, met for several hours Thursday trying to determine the next course of action with Ponson, who was arrested Christmas Day and spent 11 days in jail in Aruba for punching a judge and then was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and charged with DUI less than a month later. In that Jan. 21 arrest, Ponson also refused to take a Breathalyzer test and had his license subsequently suspended. That case is pending, according to one of his attorneys.
"I would hesitate from commenting," attorney Scott Shapiro said. "It's an ongoing criminal matter."
Ponson's trial in Aruba caused the pitcher to have trouble obtaining a work visa this spring. The right-hander had to miss his first few spring outings in order to fly to the Dominican Republic and meet with immigration officials, a meeting that Orioles owner Peter Angelos helped arrange. Angelos did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Shapiro said the most recent arrest would not affect Ponson's visa status.
"It really doesn't change it," Shapiro said. "A DUI is not a crime of moral turpitude. It doesn't rise to that level unless it was an incident where someone was hurt. It appears to be on the surface a standard DUI arrest. It will not impact his immigration status."
After Ponson's arrest in January, the Orioles had investigated whether they could void the pitcher's contract. It is likely they are doing so again, according to one source close to the team.
The pitcher is owed $10 million next season. Any such action would likely be met with an immediate grievance from the players association. But one source who has seen Ponson's contract thinks the Orioles may have just cause.
"There are things in there that speak to morals and acting in a first-class manner," the source said.
Ponson has been a considerable disappointment since signing a three-year, $22.5 million contract prior to the 2004 season. In two seasons, Ponson has won just 18 games. This year he was just 7-11 with a 6.22 ERA and had not won a game since June 18, losing his last seven decisions. Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said Ponson was not likely to pitch again this season because of his thumb injury.
"We were concerned about his weight and conditioning all year," Miller said of Ponson, 28, who is 6 feet 1 and 253 pounds. "Obviously the results aren't good. He hasn't pitched well all year. All you have to do is look at the stat sheet."
More than his performance on the field though, people close to Ponson are worried about his possible problem with alcohol.
"I'm not suggesting he's an alcoholic because I have no way of knowing that," said Jim Palmer, an Orioles announcer and Hall of Fame pitcher. "It's a serious situation and he has to address it. If you're going to say that punching a judge on Christmas is a life-altering experience, then act like that. That's all. It's a horrible story because it endangers his life, other people's lives. It's got to end.
"It's got to stop. But there's only one person that can do that, and that's him. Maybe this will be the wake-up call and maybe he won't sleep through this one."
Yesterday's DUI charge is his second this year
Orioles have to decide the fate of injured pitcher Sidney Ponson, who in the last eight months has hit a judge and been charged with DUI twice.