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Cards cut ties with Spiezio

Cards' Spiezio facing legal trouble

JUPITER, Fla. -- Barely two hours after news circulated that a warrant had been issued in Southern California for the arrest of Scott Spiezio on Wednesday, the Cardinals released the utility man.

A total of six charges have been filed against Spiezio in Orange County Superior Court, all resulting from an incident on Dec. 30, 2007. The charges are: driving under the influence, driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher, hit-and-run with property damage, assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, and assault and battery.

Spiezio was charged Tuesday, and the warrant for his arrest has since been rescinded, as Spiezio was represented by counsel in Orange County. He is considered to have been released on his own recognizance. Spiezio, who could face up to two years in prison if convicted on the counts, is scheduled to be arraigned March 26.

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Spiezio did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone seeking comment. His agent, Barry Meister, said he had no comment for the time being but expected to release a statement in the coming days.

It's not Spiezio's first off-field problem since joining the Cardinals. Late in 2007, he was placed on the restricted list in order to seek treatment for substance-abuse issues.

"I think when you look at the past year, it becomes the sum of the parts," said general manager John Mozeliak. "We were in a situation here after learning what we learned today, we felt we were at a crossroads. And we felt it was in the best interest of our organization and in Scott's to go separate ways."

By releasing Spiezio outright, the Cardinals are liable for the entirety of his remaining contract. Spiezio is owed $2.3 million this year, as well as a $100,000 buyout on a $2.5 million club option for 2009. He signed a two-year deal with an option prior to last season.

Mozeliak acknowledged that Spiezio's incident was viewed not only through the lens of the player's own history, but the recent history of the organization as well. Last spring, manager Tony La Russa was arrested on DUI charges, to which he later pled guilty. Pitcher Josh Hancock died in an alcohol-related wreck in April of 2007.

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"I think it would be irresponsible of us to try to ignore the last year," Mozeliak said.

According to a release issued by the Orange County district attorney's office, Spiezio attempted to drive home after having "several vodka drinks" at a bar in Newport Beach, Calif. The release charges that Spiezio sped, veered across several lanes and through oncoming traffic before driving over a curb and hitting a fence.

Further, the release states that Spiezio is accused of fleeing the wreck on foot, running to his condominium complex in Irvine, Calif., and visiting a friend's home. From there, per the statement, Spiezio vomited in his friend's room, grew angry when confronted about doing so and attacked the friend.

Spiezio hit .269 with a .354 on-base percentage, a .386 slugging percentage, four homers and 31 RBIs in 81 games for the Cardinals in 2007. He enjoyed an excellent first year with the Cardinals in 2006, putting up a .272/.366/.496 line with 13 home runs. His game-winning three-run triple against the Brewers on Sept. 30, 2006, was arguably the team's biggest hit of the regular season.

According to both Mozeliak and La Russa, the Cardinals had knowledge as early as the beginning of January that Spiezio had been in a traffic incident. But both men stated that the club had no idea of the severity of the situation until Wednesday. Mozeliak specifically said that the team did not know alcohol was alleged to be part of the wreck prior to Wednesday.

"I honestly don't feel anger, because I rationalize it like he was fighting for his baseball life," La Russa said. "Maybe he wasn't as forthcoming [as he could have been]. I'm disappointed -- disappointed personally and disappointed professionally. There was a role on our club that he performed in '06 that I was hoping he could perform in '08."

La Russa and Mozeliak met with Spiezio and Meister shortly before infielders and outfielders reported to Spring Training. At that time, a few more details of the wreck apparently became known to the team, but even then, the gravity of the eventual charges was not known to the Cardinals.

"They let on that some things had occurred, but it was somewhat downplayed in terms of what the legal ramifications are," Mozeliak said. "Not knowing that, and not having any insight on what that was legally, we didn't feel it was really responsible, or it would have been irresponsible to act then. And obviously what came to light today changed how we looked at it."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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