Orioles put troubled Ponson on release waivers

BALTIMORE -- Sidney Ponson was released Thursday by the Baltimore Orioles, who contend the pitcher's conduct and problems with alcohol the past nine months give them grounds to terminate his contract.

Ponson, on the 15-day disabled list with thumb and calf injuries, has one season left on a three-year deal that would pay him $10 million in 2006.

"The Orioles did what we felt was justified and right, and indeed what we were compelled to do," said H. Russell Smouse, the team's general counsel. "There was really no alternative after a deliberate consideration of all the facts."

Michael Weiner, the general counsel of the players' association, said, "We will clearly grieve it."

Ponson plans to fight the termination, too.

"In conjunction with the players' association, we will vigorously contest the grounds for Sidney's dismissal," said Ponson's agent, Barry Praver.

It was Praver's first comment regarding Ponson since the 28-year-old pitcher was arrested on Aug. 25 for driving under the influence of alcohol. It has been several weeks since Ponson has talked to the media.

Ponson's arrest was his second this year. He was also charged in January with driving under the influence in Florida, a case that has not been resolved.

That arrest came less than a month after he spent 11 days in an Aruban jail after he hit a judge during a Christmas Day fight at a beach in his home country. Ponson apologized for the fight and reached a settlement that involved community service and a charitable contribution.

Last week's arrest convinced the Orioles they had sufficient grounds to terminate his contract. In a one-sentence release Thursday, the Orioles said they placed the pitcher on "unconditional release waivers," citing a violation of the standard player contract.

Every player on the 40-man roster signs a standard contract that includes a morals clause, paragraph 3(a), that reads: "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."

The Orioles believe Ponson violated that rule.

"It relates to his alcohol-related conduct over a period of time," Smouse said.

The move prompted a mixed reaction from Orioles players.

"I cannot blame the team for what they did," catcher Javy Lopez said. "They figured that this is what they need to do in order to I guess to, I don't know, not to say to help him out but just to clean up some of the issues that have been happening to this organization."

"This isn't a shut case," said outfielder Jay Gibbons, the Orioles' player rep. "It's not easy to do something like that, I know. Yeah, he's made some mistakes but a lot of people have. We're just going to have to see how it plays out."

The Colorado Rockies tried to void pitcher Denny Neagle's contract after his arrest during the winter on charges of solicitation of prostitution, 14 months after he was charged with DUI.

The players' association filed a grievance on Neagle's behalf, and the sides settled during a break in the hearing. Neagle accepted $16 million of the $19 million owed on his contract, a record severance check in baseball.

Ponson is 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA, among the highest in the major leagues. He has not won a game since June 18.