Orioles could void remainder of Ponson's contract

Updated: August 26, 2005, 9:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BALTIMORE -- When Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro returned from a suspension for steroid use earlier this month, Sidney Ponson wrapped his arm around his pensive teammate and offered his support.

Palmeiro returned the favor Friday -- in a figurative sense.

One day after Ponson was arrested for drunken driving -- his second such charge this year -- Palmeiro said, "I'm not going to sit here and crucify him. The one thing I'm going to do is stand by him. He supported me and I'm going to do the same for him. We all make mistakes; we're here to help him."

Palmeiro couldn't embrace Ponson because the pitcher was granted a day off by the Orioles, who are still trying to figure out the best course of action for dealing with the right-hander's mounting alcohol-related problems.

Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, who met with owner Peter Angelos on Thursday after Ponson was arrested, declined to talk with the media for a second straight day Friday.

"They're still assessing the situation, gathering facts and everything else," Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said. "It would be premature to say anything at this time."

But the Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the Orioles are looking for ways to unload the troubled right-hander and could even void the remainder of his contract.

But they would likely face a grievance from the union if they chose that course of action, and an arbitrator would have to decide whether Ponson's actions violated the contract.

According to the police report of Thursday's arrest, after being pulled over for tailgating a vehicle, Ponson told the officer that he had three beers. He then failed to walk a straight line and had trouble standing on one leg. He also asked the officer to release him, because he was an Orioles player and was going back to Aruba.

Upon being taken to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel Police Station, Ponson refused to take a breath test.

Ponson was arrested for drunken driving in Florida in January, less than one month after he served 11 days in an Aruban jail for hitting a judge during a brawl on the beach on Christmas. That case has been resolved, but the Florida charge is still pending.

Ponson's legal problems have overshadowed his expansive waistline and ineffectiveness on the mound since signing a three-year, $22.5 million contract in January 2004. Ponson was 11-15 last year, and this season is 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA.

He will not pitch again this year because of a torn ligament in his thumb and a strained calf, but the big question in the organization is: What about next year?

Interim manager Sam Perlozzo said Ponson told him Thursday that he will address his drinking problem in the near future.

"He said, 'I'm going to get some help and get my life straightened out.' I told him it wasn't going to be easy, and good luck," Perlozzo said.

Asked if he would want Ponson in the rotation in 2006, Perlozzo said, "I would like to see a new Sidney back, somebody that is dedicated to the game of baseball, got his life squared away and can help the Orioles. If that is the Sidney that comes back, I'll welcome him."

If Ponson is to alter his behavior, he will have to show some maturity. He's 28, single, and not responsible for anyone but himself.

"He doesn't have a family with him. He's not married. He doesn't have kids," Palmeiro said. "He may have more freedom to do things he may want to do. He's young. When you're young, you're going to make mistakes. And sometimes it takes more than one time for it to really sink in.

"Someone needs to be there for him. I know he doesn't have family here. So some of us need to do whatever we can to help."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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