O's give Ponson unconditional release

Orioles give Ponson unconditional release

TORONTO -- The Orioles took their first significant step to part ways with Sidney Ponson, placing the troubled pitcher on unconditional release waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.

In a brief press release, the Orioles said they are releasing Ponson "for conduct which violated the terms of his Uniform Players Contract." Ponson was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on the early morning of Aug. 25 on Interstate 95, just south of Baltimore.

He was stopped by the Maryland Transit Authority for driving his black 2005 Mercedes Benz too close to a Volkswagen on Interstate 395. According to the police report, he failed the field sobriety test and he refused to take a breathalyzer.

It was Ponson's third alcohol-related incident in nine months, and the team did not comment nor make any decision regarding his status until Thursday. The club's brass, including owner Peter Angelos, who was apparently incensed about Ponson's latest brush with the law, collaborated for a week to determine their plan of action.

"The Orioles did what the team felt was justified and indeed what we were compelled to do," general counsel H. Russell Smouse said. "We felt we were left with no recourse to take this action and did so with careful and deliberate consideration of the facts."

It is expected that Ponson, through the players association, will fight the move or try to reach settlement for his remaining salary this season and the $10 million he is scheduled to earn next season on the final year of his contract.

The Rockies attempted to void the contract of pitcher Denny Neagle after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute on Dec. 4, 2004, 14 months after he was arrested for DUI. But the two sides agreed to a settlement, and he received $16 million of the $19 million he was owed.

Angels utility man Tony Phillips was arrested for attempting to purchase cocaine on Aug. 10, 1997, and the Angels' only recourse was to suspend him for the season with pay.

Ponson also was arrested for DUI on Jan. 21 in Broward County, Fla., and he did not tell the team until a Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reporter discovered the police report and informed the team. That came shortly after Ponson was involved in a fight at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant, although witnesses said Ponson was not at fault.

On Dec. 25, 2004, Ponson was arrested in Aruba and spent 11 days in jail for an altercation with a judge on a beach after beachgoers accused Ponson of riding his watercraft recklessly. Ponson said after his jail stint that he was a changed man and would reassess his priorities.

Just 17 days after his release, he was stopped for DUI in Fort Lauderdale, angering many team officials.

Executive vice president Jim Beattie directed all calls to Smouse, but the Orioles players, preparing for a game with the Blue Jays, were saddened by the news.

"My biggest concern is that Sidney gets some proper help and gets healthy -- and comes back and does what he's supposed to do. And that's pitch the baseball."
-- Sam Perlozzo

"It's really sad for him," right fielder and team player representative Jay Gibbons said. "Watching him the last few years, he's a great guy. To have this happen to him -- and to see if he needs help -- and hopefully he gets that help, so he can get back on the ball field wherever."

Gibbons said he spoke with Ponson a few days after the latest incident, and he still did not sense that Ponson was completely changed. What's more, according to three club sources, Ponson was seen at the same nightspot he apparently was the night of the DUI arrests the night after the incident.

"It was just the same ol' Sidney, just taking it a bit too lightly," Gibbons said. "Everybody likes and cares about Sidney, but it's a point where you have to know when to say when and take responsibility for your actions."

Interim manager Sam Perlozzo, who was on the coaching staff when Ponson arrived as a baby-faced 21-year-old from Aruba, was disappointed by Thursday's move.

"My biggest concern is that Sidney gets some proper help and gets healthy -- and comes back and does what he's supposed to do. And that's pitch the baseball," Perlozzo said. "I am sad about the situation. I've been sad from the start. I've been here ever since Sidney's been here. I've been a big booster of his since he was a kid. Sometimes you have to get backed into a corner before you get yourself straightened out, so it looks like this is the time."

Ponson was 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA this season, and since signing his three-year, $22.5 million contract, he is 18-26 with a 5.64 ERA with two shutouts. In his final 10 starts this season, he was 0-7 with a 9.07 ERA, and he had fallen out of favor with the organization even before the final DUI arrest.

"No one knows what the real problem is," former manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We all know what type of guy Sidney is. He's a lovable guy. He just needs to get his priorities straight, and he can be a productive pitcher in this league."

The Orioles attempted to trade Ponson to the Padres for third baseman Phil Nevin in July, but Nevin exercised his no-trade clause and nixed the deal.

Ponson remained on the trade block, with the Rangers showing interest, but he was hurt twice in starts against Texas. He was hit on the right thumb by a Sandy Alomar liner on July 28, and he strained his right calf running to cover first base on Aug. 7. Ponson, who was not expected to pitch again this season because of a torn ligament in the thumb, has been excused from the team.

"I'd like to see Sidney get his life squared away. I am worried about Sidney, the person," veteran B.J. Surhoff said. "The perception is that he doesn't work hard, because some people have made him their whipping boy. Fortunately, nothing other than his career has been hurt. It's not over for him. He's still young. He can still play if he can get things squared away."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.