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Mota, Piazza Feel Heat

Baseball suspends each for five regular-season games and hands out fines in wake of March 12 brawl.

March 18, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. — The commissioner's office Monday moved to avert Mike Piazza-Guillermo Mota III, fining and suspending each for five regular-season games for igniting last week's bench-clearing brawl between the Dodgers and New York Mets.

Piazza, who entered the Dodger clubhouse without permission in pursuit of Mota after being hit with a pitch, was fined $3,000. Mota, whose action was ruled intentional by an umpire, was penalized $1,500. The altercation was the second in a year between the players. Met outfielder Jeromy Burnitz was fined $500.

The suspensions are scheduled to begin opening day, but Piazza and Mota are considering filing appeals that would delay their punishment until after hearings at the commissioner's office in New York. The players have seven days to appeal.

"Naturally, I'm disappointed in the ruling," Piazza said in a statement. "I have seven days to weigh my options, and I plan to use that time to decide what course of action I will take."

Said Mota: "I have to talk to my agent. I don't know what I'm going to do yet."

Losing Piazza, an All-Star catcher, to start the season would open a big hole in the Mets' batting order against the Chicago Cubs and Montreal Expos. The Dodger bullpen could be short-handed against the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres without the right-handed Mota.

But that's the price the clubs could pay for the players' feud.

"We're still trying to send the same message that we've been sending for the last three years: Major League Baseball will not permit this type of activity," said Bob Watson, baseball's administrator in charge of on-field discipline.

Watson, who made his ruling after a four-day investigation, added: "I can't comment on [specifics of the Piazza-Mota situation] until after the appeal process. I'm bound by the process right now, but I definitely will have some things to say after this is completed. I'll have all kinds of things I'd like to say then."

Watson has been busy this spring. He previously suspended outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and infielder Jose Macias of Montreal and Florida Marlin pitcher Brad Penny for their roles in a fight.

Major league officials said he took particular interest in Piazza and Mota because of their stormy history.

Mota hit Piazza on the left hip with a pitch on the final day of exhibition play in Vero Beach last spring. Piazza did not charge the mound but confronted Mota later in the game as the reliever walked down the right-field line to leave Holman Stadium. Piazza grabbed Mota by the jersey with both hands as players from both benches rushed to separate them. Watson also fined Piazza $3,000 for that incident.

Then Mota hit Piazza with a pitch on the left shoulder in the March 12 exhibition at the Mets' spring complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Piazza charged the mound, setting off the brawl, then later stormed into the Dodger clubhouse. Two weekend exhibitions between the clubs in Mexico City were played without incident -- the Dodgers left Mota behind -- and now the Mets and Dodgers are dealing with the on-field fallout.

Piazza is expected to take seven days to decide whether to appeal, hoping a hearing will not occur until after the season begins, enabling him to play in the opening series against the Cubs at Shea Stadium.

"Mike has options, and we're going to take our time to consider them," said Piazza's agent, Dan Lozano. "I'm not saying we're leaning one way or another, all I'm saying is we'll inform the union of our decision at the appropriate time."

Said Met General Manager Steve Phillips, "We plan to support Mike in whatever course of action he decides."

Likewise, the Dodgers are supporting Mota, who figures to play a prominent role in the bullpen this season. Mota said he would do whatever the Dodgers requested of him regarding a potential appeal, but General Manager Dan Evans said he would not attempt to influence the pitcher's decision.

"It's not my role," Evans said. "He's represented by Adam Katz. Adam will take care of that entire process. The club really doesn't have any participation."

Katz, who has a good relationship with Evans, said he wouldn't rush into anything.

"It's really inappropriate for me to say too much right now," Katz said. "We've got time to decide and we're going to take it."

Manager Jim Tracy would like to know as soon as possible, preferring not to start the season with only a 24-man roster.

"I said I was going to wait and see where we were from a suspension standpoint, and now I'm looking at [possibly losing Mota for] three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks and two games against the San Diego Padres," Tracy said. "With a day off [today], I'm going to sit down and go over both of those rosters very, very closely, ask myself a lot of questions and unfold a lot of different game scenarios in my mind.

"I'm going to ask myself what is most beneficial, as far as our team is concerned, in the first five games of the season. I'm going to look at the starters that would possibly be involved, the bullpens that are involved and the starting pitchers as determined by what I may or may not do with my lineup. And with what I do with my lineup, how does that make my bench look? I've got to sort all that stuff out now."

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