NEW YORK -- Addressing "a highly unfortunate and extremely dangerous on-field incident," American League president Gene Budig yesterday suspended Orioles reliever Armando Benitez and four others for their roles in Tuesday's night's brawl with the New York Yankees.
Benitez received an eight-game suspension as the fight's instigator while fellow reliever Alan Mills received a two-game suspension. New York Yankees designated hitter Darryl Strawberry and reliever Graeme Lloyd received three-game suspensions, and reliever Jeff Nelson a two-game sentence.
Barring an appeal, Mills will serve his time after Benitez. Nelson's sentence begins after Strawberry and Lloyd complete their terms.
For their part, the Orioles accepted responsibility and offered an apology for the incident that occurred during Tuesday's eighth inning. Benitez sparked an on-field battle royal when he hit Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez between the shoulder blades immediately after surrendering a go-ahead home run to Bernie Williams. The ensuing melee sent players from both teams tumbling into the Orioles dugout.
Benitez initially denied throwing at Martinez. He convinced few.
Making no excuses for his reliever, manager Ray Miller placed the blame squarely on Benitez's shoulders and offered a public apology several hours before last night's game.
"The object of intent lies with one person," said Miller, who didn't speak with Benitez yesterday. "The action of 'I'll hurt you if I can't beat you' totally misrepresents the Baltimore Orioles' tradition of good play and sportsmanship. With that in mind, I issue a full apology to Tino Martinez, Joe Torre and the New York Yankees in general."
Torre accepted Miller's apology after Tuesday's incident and declared the issue dead.
"He made a mistake," Angelos said of Benitez. "I think he expressed remorse over it. Everybody assumes the incident was deliberate. I don't know. I don't like to make such judgments until I know everything involved."
Steinbrenner accepted Angelos' apology but made clear his displeasure with Budig's ruling.
"I don't agree with it because I don't think it's sending the right message. I think the message you have to send to people like this young man [Benitez] is that beanballs are no longer part of the game," Steinbrenner said.
"This was a straight beanball. He threw right at him. And he had done this before when [Martinez] was with Seattle."
Steinbrenner pushed for a month's suspension. The Yankees have reserved the right to appeal Budig's ruling pending the results of tests performed on Martinez, who still had difficulty raising his right arm last night.
Clearly disturbed and embarrassed by the incident, the Orioles thought Benitez had matured beyond such displays. Since being named pitching coach before the 1997 season, Miller especially had made inroads in strengthening the pitcher's fragile psyche.
"There's a lot of emotion in this game and sometimes you have a young, immature guy lose control. The intent is his to live with. We all represent the Baltimore Orioles. It happened and we have to stand up and be judged for it," Miller said.
Miller made no apology for the actions of Mills, who landed a right hand to Strawberry's face after the Yankees designated hitter sucker-punched Benitez, causing the brawl to revive within the Orioles' dugout. During his morning conversation with Budig, Miller lobbied for Mills to be spared.
Miller said: "I made a plea for Alan Mills because, I don't care what the scenario is, when they're in your dugout and somebody punches your teammate in the back of the head, I think you have a right to protect him. And he did that very well. Very well."
Strawberry remained defiant last night, saying, "This is not over."
"If he has something against me, that's him. I'm not going to hate him just because he hates me," Mills said. "In brawls, things just ++ happen. He did what he had to do and I did what I had to do."
Benitez did not accompany the club to Yankee Stadium last night. His agent, Mike Powell, was seeking permission for Benitez to at least temporarily leave the team as a safety precaution. Club officials said the reliever would remain with the team in Oakland and Seattle while serving his suspension. Whether the Orioles would take additional action against Benitez likely will be decided during a teleconference among Angelos, vice chairman Joe Foss and Gillick today.
According to sources familiar with the situation, union official Gene Orza and Powell discussed a possible appeal with Benitez yesterday. Benitez, however, insisted that he would serve his penance rather than drag out the process. However, the disparity between the sentence given Benitez and the three Yankees may cause the player's representatives to reconsider. An appeal may be filed any time before the entire suspension is served. "It's not a moot issue at all," said the source.
Benitez will be paid while serving his time just as was Roberto Alomar while serving his time for a 1996 spitting incident involving AL umpire John Hirschbeck. The league levied a $2,000 fine against Benitez, $500 against Mills and $1,000 against each of the Yankees.
Budig described the incident as "a matter of gravity" and described the action as "a strong response." While Steinbrenner chafed at its brevity, Gillick wondered about the punitive effect on his team.
Gillick proposed the league alter its policy toward suspensions, making the punishment more monetary than service time. Such a modification would require the unlikely consent from the Players Association.
"The club is the one who gets hurt. Gene Budig is doing what he can with the tools at hand. I'm not arguing with him," Gillick said.
While Miller referred to Benitez's act as "cowardly," Gillick requested understanding for Benitez, the club's youngest member who has struggled with emotions before. "You have to understand Armando comes from a different culture, a different background," Gillick said. "Latin American people can be quite emotional and become quite frustrated. I think Latin American people have a different temperament than people have in North America.
"Everyone makes mistakes along the way. I hope he learns from his mistakes and benefits and builds on them."
Worst of all, Benitez received the disapproval of a veteran clubhouse that, while coming to his defense, recognized his violation of the game's code against head-hunting.
"I think he took a step back. It's just a learning process he's going through and hopefully he learned something from it," said catcher Chris Hoiles, who bruised a forearm during the scrum. "It's not like this is the first time this ever happened in the game of baseball, and it's probably not going to be the last time, either."
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Scott Erickson (4-4, 5.43) vs. Yankees' Andy Pettitte (5-4, 4.42)
Pub Date: 5/21/98