ATLANTA — Scott Spiezio will try to return to the majors with a team that rarely takes a chance on troubled players.
Spiezio agreed Monday to a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves, who’ll give the infielder an opportunity to show he’s cleaned up his life after an arrest on drunken driving and assault charges led to his release by St. Louis.
The 35-year-old Spiezio will work out with the Class A team in Rome today and report to Triple-A Richmond the following day.
Spiezio won World Series championships with Anaheim in 2002 and St. Louis in 2006, but also missed more than a month last year while getting treatment for substance abuse. Then, in December, he was charged with six counts after police said he crashed his car, fled the scene and then beat up a friend who tried to help him. He was cut by the Cardinals in February after the case became public. Now, Atlanta is giving him a shot at redemption.
"There’s been a change in personality, a change in attitude," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "He is sincerely sorry for everything that happened. I think he’s committed to making amends and making a change."
The Braves began to look into signing Spiezio a couple of weeks ago. They agreed to a minor league deal after he met with Wren and manager Bobby Cox before Monday’s home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"We’ll get a chance to see him in the minor leagues," Wren said. "We’ll see if he’s the person we think he is. If he’s not, he won’t be here."
Spiezio, in a statement released by the Braves, expressed remorse for his actions.
"I am very embarrassed and sorry for what happened in the offseason," he said. "I have taken steps, including treatment, to ensure it will not happen again. I have taken full responsibility and I am making restitution to the people I have hurt. I am very appreciative of the second chance I’ve been given. The Braves have made no promises to me, except to give me the opportunity to prove that I have made amends and that I can still perform at this level."
Spiezio is best remembered on the field for his three-run homer in Game 6 of the 2002 Series against San Francisco, helping the Angels rally from the largest deficit ever in a potential deciding game.
The Braves have long been known for their clubhouse chemistry and reticence to deal with players who might be a distraction. Most notably, they dumped closer John Rocker after he made disparaging remarks against gays, immigrants and minorities.
So why sign a player who cultivated a hard-rocking image during his 12 seasons in the majors and even played in a heavy metal band, SandFrog?
"We’re talking about an individual who made a mistake," Wren said. "He admits to it and he’s made amends. And we’re willing to give him a second chance. We didn’t sign him to a major league contract, we signed him to a minor league contract. We’ll give him an opportunity to show that he’s truly sorry for what he did and that he has made amends.
Spiezio was scheduled to be arraigned last week on six charges that include driving under the influence, hit and run, aggravated assault and battery.
The case was postponed until April 7, and Wren said he was assured by Spiezio that everything will be resolved without any time behind bars. He faces up to two years in state prison.
The Dec. 30 incident occurred in Irvine, Calif. Police responding to a report of a single-car crash just after midnight found a 2004 BMW registered to Spiezio had crashed into a curb and fence. The driver was seen running from the crash site, officers said.
A neighbor told police Spiezio arrived at their condo complex appearing disheveled and apparently injured. The neighbor claimed the player assaulted him, causing significant injuries.
Spiezio was devastated by the death of Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who was legally intoxicated when he crashed into the back of a flatbed truck last April, and has said the situation may have pushed him deeper into dependency.
"You’ve got to put yourself in the right situations, sometimes change friends or go out to breakfast with a friend and not to a place where you can start making bad decisions," Spiezio said in January. "I’ve got to be in a frame of mind where I can’t lose focus in any way."
The Braves are eager to improve their bench, certainly a role that Spiezio can fill if he’s sober. He can play every infield position except shortstop, as well as left and right field in a pinch.
St. Louis owes him this year’s $2.3 million salary plus a $100,000 buyout of a $2.5 million team option for 2009, so the Braves won’t have to make a major financial commitment.
Spiezio batted .272 in 119 games with 13 homers and 52 RBIs in 2006. Last year, he appeared in only 82 games because of injuries, illness and treatment, managing four homers, 31 RBIs and a .269 average.
"He a very versatile player," Wren said.