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It's time to put Ponson in rearview mirror


ORIOLES officials huddled in the downtown office of owner Peter Angelos yesterday, weighing their options after finally figuring out what should have been obvious eight months ago:

Sidney Ponson is a very sick young man. He is a danger to himself and others. He has gone from cuddly career adolescent to clubhouse cancer, which must now be cured or cut out.

I'm thinking the club should go with the Ponson-ectomy.

Front office sources confirmed yesterday that Angelos is exploring the possibility of voiding the troubled pitcher's contract after his second arrest this year on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. If that doesn't work, the team may have to consider writing him a check for some or all of the $10 million remaining on his contract and sending him on his scary way.

The other option is to do what the team should have done in January, after Ponson spent 11 days in jail for allegedly assaulting an Aruban judge and was so remorseful that he traveled to Florida and got popped for drunken driving a couple of weeks later. The Orioles could insist that Ponson check into an alcohol rehabilitation facility for as long as it takes to deal with his demons.

That would be the humane thing to do - give him one more chance to get right - but he has become such a liability to the organization that the time for putting his well-being ahead of the team's has passed.

The Orioles have to look at the bigger picture, which isn't pretty. Ponson, defiantly out of shape and disturbingly short on good judgment, has become a huge embarrassment to the franchise, and there is real danger that he is becoming the wrong kind of role model for the club's young pitchers.

He also proved again early yesterday morning that he is a menace to society because he is an unapologetic party animal who - by many accounts - becomes increasingly more stubborn and belligerent the more he drinks.

In all, he has had three DUI arrests during his professional career (including one when he was pitching at Single-A Frederick), along with the assault charge in Aruba and a handful of lesser alcohol-related incidents.

In short, he's lucky he hasn't killed somebody - and the Orioles no longer can afford to press that luck.

While the front-office types remained behind closed doors yesterday, manager Sam Perlozzo was left to try to sort out the mixed feelings of an organization that at the same time harbors both contempt and concern for the troubled 28-year-old who once was considered a potential superstar.

"I just think he needs some help," Perlozzo said.

But Perlozzo didn't hesitate when he was asked what he would do if he became convinced that a player was having a corrosive effect on the team or was becoming a negative influence on the younger players in the clubhouse. The question arose because Ponson has been seen palling around with up-and-coming starter Erik Bedard.

"If there was anybody on this team that I thought was going to have a negative effect on someone else, whether it was Sidney Ponson or Miguel Tejada, if it affected the other 24 players on the team, I would want that situation rectified," Perlozzo said. "But that goes for anybody, not just Sidney."

It's probably fair to assume that Angelos and his front office already have reached that conclusion, but would like to find some way to avoid throwing $10 million down a hole.

The Orioles came maddeningly close to trading Ponson to the San Diego Padres in July, but slugger Phil Nevin exercised a limited no-trade clause in his contract to veto the deal. Now, the best the club can probably hope for is some kind of negotiated settlement to pay Ponson a portion of his remaining guarantee in a lump sum to go away quietly.

Ponson signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract almost two years ago and has done nothing but illustrate the folly of team officials who gambled that he had finally figured things out after his 17-win season in 2003.

It might not cost anything to make that wager again - because the Orioles don't have to throw any more good money after the bad - but Ponson's continued presence and questionable work habits only figure to impede the development of a promising young pitching staff.

The Orioles have a difficult choice to make. They can do what's best for Ponson and try to persuade him to turn his life around, or they can send a message to everyone else that there is a level of misconduct that will not be tolerated, even if the club has to flush millions of dollars to clean up the mess.

It wouldn't be a difficult choice for me.

This needs to end.

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