TEMPE, Ariz. – Gary Matthews Jr. should probably know that while he fields calls from his attorneys and plots strategies with his crisis management firm, the Los Angeles Angels are beginning to field their own calls and plot their own strategies.
Very soon, they'll have a season to play. And they'll need a leadoff hitter and a center fielder.
Maybe that'll be Matthews, which, one would have thought, was the least he could do in the early weeks of his $50 million contract.
But, as Matthews abides by his tactic of keeping his new ballclub from the truth about his alleged receipt of human growth hormone 2 ½ years ago and ignoring its pleas for a public explanation, his new ballclub is charting its own plan, including, according to one club source, the possibility of acquiring a replacement center fielder.
The ground here is relatively new for Major League Baseball and the moving target that is its Steroid Era, but league sources say Commissioner Bud Selig is considering whether there are grounds to suspend Matthews, despite the absence of a positive test and an alleged transgression that predates the current drug policy. The players union almost certainly would contest such discipline, as would Matthews' attorneys.
But, as one baseball official said, "Everything is on the table right now."
Selig stopped by Tempe Diablo Stadium on Saturday afternoon, met with Angels owner Arte Moreno for about 30 minutes in the team's executive offices, then made it clear he'd toe Moreno's hard line on Matthews. In fact, Selig, who has not made a habit of calling out some of the poster boys of his game's admitted or reputed users, including the guy gaining on his buddy Hank Aaron, appeared emboldened by Moreno's uncompromising view of the Matthews situation.
"This is a social institution," Selig said. "We have enormous social responsibilities. That means every single one of us. That means starting with the commissioner and everybody in this sport. And therefore when something happens in instances like this, I think we all have that responsibility. I know this from an institutional standpoint, when we have something like this that comes up, I can't hide it, nor should I, nor should anybody else."
That means you, Gary.
"A statement," Selig added, "would be very, very helpful, to say the least."
Nearly two weeks have passed since Moreno all but ordered Matthews to say something, which would represent to him a step toward resolution. Moreno has prodded Matthews at least twice since, according to club sources, and Matthews' reaction so far has been to remind reporters he'd only be answering questions related to baseball, further infuriating Moreno and drawing more attention from the league.
"I have to say," Selig said, "there isn't a scintilla of difference between Arte Moreno's position and mine. I don't know how much blunter I can be than that."
Moreno didn't walk the concourses of Angel Stadium, turning the Angels into a model franchise that's taking names (literally) in L.A. and running well in the black, for this kind of embarrassment.
He didn't risk $50 million on a player with a short history of deserving it, for this kind of defiance.
After Selig spoke to a crowd of reporters in the back of the press box, Moreno spoke quietly in a hallway leading to his office.
"There's two parts," he said. "One, I think that Gary Matthews has a responsibility to the fans. I also believe I have a responsibility to the fans and the writers, who communicate to the fans."
For Moreno, according to those who know him well, it's about the baseball and the perception of his organization. It's about an organizational transparency that allows its public to trust in its goals and values. It's about a handshake guy living in a lawyered-up world, who believes in charming principles such as accountability and right over wrong.
And, it's about waking up three weeks from Opening Day, your center fielder unwilling to come clean, the Commissioner standing by with a suddenly eager trigger finger, nobody really knowing if Matthews might have dabbled in HGH for a few weeks in 2004 and quit or if there's more out there waiting to be uncovered.
The owner's trying to put a baseball team on the field. He'd like to know if he's going to require another center fielder, even for the short term. He'd like to know if he can trust his employees.
So, on an otherwise perfect afternoon, the commissioner sat high above home plate and the center fielder sat on the bench. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said he'd only given Matthews a one-day blow, allowing young Reggie Willits a couple of plate appearances. But, he admitted that if Matthews continued his course of evasion, and it's already getting late in that game, he'd begin considering his options.
"Probably a week ago if you asked me this, I was less concerned," Scioscia said. "As time moves on and this thing is not moving toward a resolution, our concern as an organization has certainly heightened. And we have started to develop contingencies.
"So, you know, our depth chart is very defined. As we move through spring, some names are going to get bolder. And we have to look very closely at that … in this case because of what could be looming."
Apparently, Matthews is willing to live with that, if only to protect his contract.
"We're preparing," Scioscia said. "The thing about it here is, you could wake up 10 days from now, come to the ballpark and one of your star players is going to miss maybe two months of the season with an injury."
A 50-game suspension, by coincidence, would cover about two months.
- Gary Matthews
- Arte Moreno