Jim Palmer was busy collecting Cy Young Awards and punching his ticket to baseball's Hall of Fame when Dennis Martinez broke into the majors with the Orioles in 1976. Martinez had a productive career, one that didn't take hold until he left the organization and sought treatment for alcoholism.
Palmer was reminded of his former teammate yesterday after learning of Sidney Ponson's early-morning arrest in Baltimore for driving while intoxicated and driving under the influence. Though not stating that Ponson has the same problem that almost ruined Martinez, Palmer worries about the effects alcohol is having on the troubled pitcher.
"It's terrible, but it's something he's going to have to deal with. And he's let a lot of people down," Palmer said.
"If you talk to somebody like Dennis Martinez, who went through having his life spiral out of control, you can get a lesson. I don't feel good about [the arrest] because it has so many repercussions. It hurts your club, it hurts the fans, it hurts him, it hurts his teammates. It's a horrible story because it endangers his life, other people's lives. It's got to end. It's got to stop. But there's only person that can do that, and that's him."
Most of the players vacated the clubhouse yesterday before reporters were allowed inside. Ponson declined to comment through team spokesman Bill Stetka.
Interim manager Sam Perlozzo was sitting in his car outside the Mall in Columbia yesterday morning, waiting with his son for the stores to open at 10 a.m., when he turned on the radio and heard a report about Ponson's arrest. A few minutes later, executive vice president Jim Beattie called to confirm the news.
"Fortunately, nobody got hurt out of the deal," Perlozzo said.
Asked if Ponson needs treatment for alcoholism before reestablishing himself with the team, Perlozzo said: "I just think he needs some help. I don't know if it's alcohol or what it is."
Perlozzo has been in the organization for 10 years, before Ponson broke into the majors. "I really pulled for him," Perlozzo said. "He had a personality that you had to like, and I wanted him to do well."
The Orioles expected as much after signing him to a three-year, $22.5 million contract in January 2004, but he's gone 18-26 since rejoining the organization. He's been criticized for poor conditioning and an insatiable thirst for the nightlife.
"I keep waiting for things to change with him, and nothing's changed," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "That's something he's going to have to get straightened out. You can't be with him off the field. All you can do is be with him here."
Ponson called Chu Halabi, the scout who signed him and who has become a father figure. He told Halabi: "I'm in trouble because I got arrested. I want you to know that."
Said Halabi: "He doesn't know what's going to happen right now. He just wants to clear his head and think about the future. He said he really felt sorry about it.
"I'm not disappointed. I'm very, very sad. I know you're sick of hearing me say he's a great human being, but he is. Everybody goes through a bad period of life."
People in the organization wonder when it will get better.
"We all like Sidney. He just has to take responsibility in his life," Palmer said. "Sometimes you have to have things happen that make you take a closer look. And sometimes it's a more difficult look. I think it was [television announcer] Buck Martinez who said everybody cares about Sidney but Sidney. If he has a problem, he needs to deal with it.
"I don't believe this is an isolated incident. Nobody wants to see this happen, but maybe this will be the wakeup call, and maybe he won't sleep through this one."
Sun staff writer Dan Connolly contributed to this article.