Joe Niekro Is Handed a 10-Day Suspension; He Weighs an Appeal

Times Staff Writer

Monday night, Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was ejected from a game against the Angels for allegedly defacing baseballs.

On Wednesday, after inspecting balls from that game and the emery board and sandpaper Niekro had in his back pocket Monday, American League President Bobby Brown suspended Niekro for 10 days, effective Wednesday.

It all sounded as clear-cut as some of the balls Niekro apparently was throwing, the ones Angel Manager Gene Mauch described as "mutilated."

But with the announcement of Niekro's suspension, the American League office also reported that Niekro had appealed the decision, therefore the suspension would not take effect until Niekro could appear before a league hearing.

OK. Except that Niekro and Twins Manager Tom Kelly each denied they had made the decision to appeal--yet.

Each said they would wait to talk to Andy MacPhail, the Twins' executive vice president, before plotting a course of action.

"We'll talk about it with Mr. MacPhail tomorrow and see what he has to report," Niekro said. "We'll decide what we're going to do from there."

All of which means that the next 10 days of Joe Niekro's future are pretty much where his trusty emery board was Monday: up in the air.

Niekro said the decision on whether to appeal would rest heavily on how soon he could appear before a hearing. He hinted that if the hearing was put off until late in August, Niekro and his team might be less inclined to appeal fearing they could lose the appeal and lose Niekro in the stretch drive of a possible pennant fight.

"We wouldn't want to get into a situation where I would be lost in September," Niekro said. "I think we'll have to find out when I would be allowed to go to the league office. The timing of the thing is important."

Wednesday's events were the latest turn in a story that has had more than its share of twists. For those of you scoring at home:

--Monday, in the fourth inning of a game eventually won by the Twins, 11-3, Niekro voluntarily cleared his pockets for umpires who suspected him of scuffing the baseball. As his hand came out of his right back pocket, Niekro appeared to make an attempt at casting away an object which turned out to be an emery board. However, the umpires immediately spotted it and ejected Niekro.

--Tuesday it was revealed that Angel batboy Jeff Parker, who Monday had been entrusted with the six balls to be sent to the league office, had been approached by Minnesota infielder Al Newman. Parker said Newman wrestled him to the ground in an attempt to get the plastic bag filled with the confiscated baseballs. Newman admitted he asked to see the balls, but denied he wrestled the kid to the ground. "He's a 100-pound kid," Newman said. "I'm going to try and bury him, right?"

The situation has elevated to the point that Kelly and Niekro are less than enthusiastic about discussing the goings on of the past few days.

"I'm going to talk about Joe Niekro now, and I'm only going to talk about it once," Kelly announced to reporters.

Asked if he was upset with Brown's decision to suspend Niekro, Kelly said: "He's the boss. He knows more about these things than I do."

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