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Players' union files grievance over Orioles' Ponson

BALTIMORE — The baseball players' association filed a grievance Thursday claiming the Baltimore Orioles improperly terminated the contract of Sidney Ponson this week and that the pitcher is due the remaining $11 million called for in his deal.

Baltimore said Sept. 1 it would release Ponson and void the remainder of his three-year contract, a move announced a week after he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Ponson cleared waivers, and the termination was effective after Tuesday's games, according to the grievance.

The union claimed in the grievance that the Orioles' termination "constitutes discipline without just cause." It also contended that an addendum in Ponson's contract allowing the team to convert it to a nonguaranteed deal was not authorized under baseball's collective bargaining agreement and was the result of a "concerted effort by the clubs."

Frank Coonelly, a lawyer in the commissioner's office, defended the Orioles' actions.

"The conversion rights included in Mr. Ponson's guarantee clause were the product of individual negotiations between Mr. Ponson's representative and the Orioles. Those rights are fully enforceable under the Basic Agreement," he said. "These conversion rights are no more the product of concerted action than are any of the other portions of the guarantee clause negotiated by Mr. Ponson's representative. It is indeed odd that Mr. Ponson's representative would assert that part of the guarantee clause is unenforceable in the same case in which he is attempting to enforce other aspects of that same clause."

The grievance also accuses the Orioles of relying on "confidential information improperly obtained from club medical personnel." However, according to the UPC, clubs have access to "relevant medical information pertaining to that player."

The Orioles maintain the grievance is without basis. General counsel H. Russell Smouse issued a statement saying Ponson, "committed serious and material breaches of that contract. In addition, termination was here appropriate because the player's misconduct rendered him unable to perform his services in a competitive manner."

The August arrest of Ponson, 28, was his second this year. He was also charged in January with driving under the influence in Florida. And 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.

Smouse said the grievance "will be vigorously defended by the Orioles and Major League Baseball as both the terms of the contract and the facts fully support the action which was taken by the club. Those facts speak to a history of a player who totally disregarded his contractual obligations and, as a result, was in clear breach of his contract and not in the physical condition to be a productive member of the club."

Ponson's weight has been one of the Orioles' main concerns in the past, but it was not clear what physical issues Smouse was referring to.

"Sidney Ponson's pattern of contempt for what can reasonably be expected of a Major League Baseball player is most disappointing," Smouse concluded.

Ponson agent Barry Praver said, "The grievance speaks for itself."

Ponson was making $7.5 million this season under a $22.5 million, three-year contract, meaning he was owed $1,065,574 for the remainder of this season. He was due to be paid $10 million next year, with $3 million of his 2006 salary deferred and scheduled to be paid in equal installments on June 1, 2007, and June 1, 2008.

Unless settled, the case will be heard by arbitrator Shyam Das.

PEAVY TO SKIP START: Padres ace Jake Peavy will skip his scheduled start on Saturday at Los Angeles because of pain in his right shoulder, and probably won't pitch again for a week.

Peavy, who leads the NL with 201 strikeouts, said he felt sharp pain in the back of his right shoulder for his last two starts.

He lasted only five innings on Sunday at Milwaukee — although he held the Brewers scoreless in a game the Padres lost. In his previous start, he came out after 6 2/3 innings against Arizona on Aug. 30.

NEAL ACTIVATED: The Colorado Rockies activated right-hander Blaine Neal from the 60-day disabled list Thursday and sent him outright to Triple-A Colorado Springs after he cleared waivers. Neal, returning from an elbow injury, was 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA in 11 games after being claimed on waivers from Boston on May 11.

Neal was on Boston's opening day roster after joining the Red Sox in a trade with San Diego on March 22. He was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in eight relief appearances before being designated for assignment by the Red Sox on May 8.