SAN FRANCISCO — The Atlanta Braves lost their leadoff man in the midst of the pennant race Monday when Otis Nixon, leading the majors in stolen bases, was suspended for 60 days for violating baseball's drug policy.
The penalty, imposed by the commissioner's office after results of drug tests became available Monday, came with three weeks left in the season and the Braves leading the Dodgers by 1 1/2 games in the NL West. The action cannot be appealed, but it can be grieved through the players' union.
"If they (grieved) it, the arbitrator would have to suspend the suspension," Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "Just filing a grievance, if they do that, does not affect it."
Baseball arbitrator George Nicolau would be the one to rule on the grievance. He is on vacation in Greece and not expected back for two weeks.
Michael Weiner, assistant general counsel of the union, said he had spoken to Nixon and his agent, Joe Sroba, earlier in the day. Weiner said a decision on filing a grievance would probably be made within 24 hours.
"I'm sure everyone is shocked and surprised," Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine said. "This is the first I've heard about anything like this. I'm sure the guys will set out to do anything they can to do what it takes to try and take away from the way it hurts our team."
A statement from the commissioner's office said Nixon, who has stolen 72 bases, was suspended for violating his aftercare program and the commissioner's drug policy. In August 1987 while with the Cleveland organization, Nixon entered a substance abuse rehabilitation center, although he never was suspended.
Nixon went into the treatment facility a week after being arrested on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance and obstructing governmental administration. He pleaded guilty to attempted obstruction of governmental administration, and the drug charge was dropped.
"It has become standard procedure for players to get a 60-day suspension when they violate their aftercare program the first time," baseball director of public relations Rich Levin said.
Last week, Nixon missed a game because of what Manager Bobby Cox said was a family emergency. Cox said he did not know the details of the absence.
Nixon is batting .297 with a .371 on-base percentage and 26 RBIs.