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Two ex-Birds run afoul of the law

While Sidney Ponson's legal troubles stemming from his Christmas fight in Aruba have grabbed headlines lately, this winter has also been unkind to two Orioles who left the nest some time ago.

Jail Bird?

On Monday, February 28, Danny Clyburn was arrested in his hometown of Lancaster, South Carolina, and was given a litany of charges that included cocaine possession and resisting arrest. Clyburn, 30, had cups of coffee (actually more like sips) with the Birds in 1997 and '98 before being traded to Tampa Bay in '99 for pitcher Jason Johnson.

According to a March 4 report in the Lancaster News, on the night of his arrest Clyburn picked up a theft suspect in a Lincoln Town Car, failed to stop when signalled to do so by a trailing police car, then stopped suddenly and attempted to flee on foot but was eventually caught and handcuffed. The police found cocaine on the ground that he allegedly threw while being pursued, and they also charged him with driving under the influence, having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle, and driving without a license. His passenger (who was unidentified) escaped apprehension.

This was not Clyburn's first criminal act; two years ago he was arrested on a harassment warrant. He tried to evade the police that time as well, and when they nabbed him he had in his possession another person's driver's license, apparently intending to pass it off as his own because his own license had been suspended after a drug violation.

The latest incident disrupts Clyburn's nomadic baseball career. A second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1994 and came to the O's (accompanied by Tony Nieto) in a 1995 swap with the Reds for fireballing reliever Brad Pennington. (Nationals GM Jim Bowden was Cincinnati's GM at the time.)

A middling outfield prospect for the Birds in the late '90s, Clyburn never got an extended opportunity in the majors because of the Orioles' veteran-filled roster. His minor-league numbers indicated consistently good power but poor strikeout-to-walk ratios, and his defense was nothing special. After failing to catch on in the majors with the Devil Rays in 1999 and being released in March of 2000, he quit organized baseball for two years. A phone call in 2002 brought him out of retirement and into the independent Atlantic League. There he spent the past three seasons playing for the Newark (NJ) Bears, for whom he became a two-time All-Star and a teammate of Rickey Henderson. He hit well enough last year (.334/.379/.559) that he probably would have been welcomed back if not for his most recent arrest. (Who knows? Maybe he'll avoid a long prison term and get an invitation to return anyway.) An interview with Clyburn from last August is available on the Atlantic League web site.

Swaggerty walks—soberly

In other ex-Oriole legal infractions, Bill Swaggerty, a former pitcher who appeared in 32 games for the Orioles in the mid-1980s, was convicted Tuesday of driving under the influence and received probation before judgment in Carroll County Circuit Court. The DUI incident in question occurred last July. This was actually his second such conviction in Maryland; on the first occasion, in 1989, he also received probation before judgment (legalese for an arrangement whereby a violator accepts a guilty verdict in return for probation, which if successfully completed results in an opportunity to expunge the infraction from the defendant's permanent criminal record). According to the Baltimore Sun, Swaggerty “was ordered to remain alcohol-free, to submit to random testing, to pay a $400 fine, to participate in the Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim-impact panel and to complete an outpatient alcohol program.” (Whew! If that's probation, then prison doesn't seem like such a bad option.)

Swaggerty, 49, spent more time in Triple-A than he did in the majors in the 1980s. He contributed to the Orioles' '83 championship team as an emergency starter and mop-up reliever, and in '84 he served in the same capacity but to a greater extent, appearing in a career-high 23 games. Yet in '85 and '86 he played in just one game each year for the O's, despite the acute pitching struggles of those teams. When Swaggerty wasn't pitching in the majors in '83-'86, he was a leading starter for the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. But he lacked the stuff to be considered by the organization as a top prospect. The Birds released him in the fall of 1986, and the Kansas City Royals quickly picked him up, but he never made it back to the majors. Swaggerty was an overachiever, a 26th-round pick in the 1979 draft who turned himself into a decent pitcher despite lacking first-rate talent. I'm not certain what he's been up to since he retired as a player, but he has appeared at several Orioles-related events, including this year's FanFest and Fantasy Camp.

Ordinarily I'm not terribly interested in the happenings of former Birds, but Clyburn's episode was unusual and went mostly unnoticed in Baltimore, and I happen to have a beat-up 1985 Topps card of Swaggerty, so I noticed when his name was in the news.


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